Fate of Israel’s New Abortion Law Uncertain with Begin Victory

The Israeli Knesset (Parliament) passed in February a liberalized abortion bill that had generated a good deal of controversy.

The measure legalizes abortion in the early stages of pregnancy upon the approval of a committee of three, which must consist of two doctors (one a gynecologist) and a social worker. The committee must certify that the birth would injure the physical or emotional health of the mother, or that the child would be born with a physical or mental defect, or that the mother is under 16 or over 40, or that the pregnancy resulted from incest, rape or was out of wedlock.

Marcia Freedman, who had previously sponsored a bill for abortion on demand, said that the measure that passed still “leaves doctors in charge of a woman’s womb” and that the conditions necessary for a legal abortion would continue to leave women to the tender loving greed of the illegal abortionists. (Last summer Israel’s association of gynecologists, many of whom have grown wealthy doing illegal abortions for upper and middle-class women, condemned the proposed liberalized abortion bill. Members of the Israeli Feminist Movement demonstrated their protest at this convention.) Estimates of Israel’s current number of abortion’s range from 40,000 to 70,000 per year.

The liberalized abortion bill faced vehement opposition, primarily from the religious and conservative elements in the Knesset, among them Geula Cohen of the Likud (right-wing) bloc. The bill was passed by a show of hands while the Orthodox M.K’s were outside the Knesset building holding an anti-abortion demon stration.

Israel’s Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren demanded the new law be abolished because it has “no moral validity.” Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said it “permitted murder.”