Free abortion for all women 20-33, panel recommends

Health Ministry committee submits findings for expanded coverage at a cost of NIS 300 millon

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Illustrative: A pregnant woman gets an ultrasound checkup.  (photo credit: Shay Levy/Flash90)
Illustrative: A pregnant woman gets an ultrasound checkup. (photo credit: Shay Levy/Flash90)

Israeli women aged 20-33 will be able to receive state-funded abortions for non-medical reasons if the recommendations of a Health Ministry commission, published Monday, are passed into law.

The committee, chaired by Prof. Yonatan Halevi, examined 650 medicines and technologies worth more than NIS 2 billion over 3 months, in order to determine what would be added to the expanded list of state-subsidized treatments. The body was bound by a NIS 300 million ($86 million) limit on the health care expansion.

In the end, 83 new medicines and treatments were added to the list, which were estimated to cover cover 115,000 patients.

According to the recommendations, women seeking an abortion will still need to receive the approval of a government panel. The committee wanted to fund the procedure for all women, according to Ynet, but budgetary constraints forced them to limit it by age.

The estimated cost per patient was estimated at NIS 2,484 ($714), which covers not only the process, but also the cost of appearing before the government panel. Without government approval, abortion is illegal, but the panel approves 98% of the cases brought before it.

The panel is made up of two physicians and one licensed social worker, and at least one of the three must be a woman.

With 6,300 women in the covered age range expected to terminate their pregnancies in 2014, the cost to the state is anticipated at NIS 15.6 million ($4.5 million).

Currently, only abortions for medical reasons and for girls under the age of 18 are paid for by the state.

Halevy said that one of his considerations was that women were avoiding abortions in hospitals because of financial difficulty, or because of a desire to hide the pregnancy.

Private abortions cost NIS 5,000-6,000 ($1,500 to $1,750.)

Other committee members voiced concern that the expanded coverage would lead to more abortions.

Unlike in the United States, abortion has never figured in the country’s political campaigns. In fact, Israel does not even have an active anti-abortion movement.

The Israeli penal code states that termination of pregnancy is a crime that carries a prison sentence of up to five years. But the code also broadly addresses numerous circumstances in which an abortion may be legally performed, including benefit to emotional and financial well-being.

Approval is practically automatic if the pregnant woman is younger than 17 or older than 40; if the conception was a result of rape, incest or extramarital relations; if the pregnancy is likely to endanger the mother’s physical or mental well-being; or if the fetus has been diagnosed with a possible birth defect.

Women also do not need the consent of any male, including the father of the child, nor do minors need the consent of parents or guardians. Israeli medical coverage offers an array of free testing for genetic and congenital birth defects.

Less than 10 percent of abortions in Israel are carried out after the 22nd week and some 20,000 legal abortions are performed in public hospitals every year in Israel, according to the Knesset research department.

This does not include abortions performed out of concern for the mother’s physical health, which are often not even brought before the committee.

It is unknown how many women avoid the committee — whether because they are between 17 and 40, or because of personal preference — and turn to a private doctor.

Further, the army provides at least one free abortion to every female soldier who requests one.

The expanded formulary, or basket of medical services, covered a variety of treatments beyond abortion that were not previously covered.

“This expansion is an expansion of the formulary in which we heard the voices of sectors that until now have not been heard,” said Halevi.

The panel called for the coverage of benign enlargement of the prostate and cancer to be expanded as well.

“Nearly every medical field is represented in this expansion,” Halevi emphasized. “When we have to prioritize NIS 300 million for NIS 2 billion, we are forced to forgo certain medicines, but there is no life-saving medicine that is not covered.”

“The meetings of the formulary committee were carried out with full transparency,” said Health Minister Yael German (Yesh Atid). “A comprehensive and professional preparation was performed. I know that the committee struggled hard over a number of medicines and technologies that we could not cover this year, and maybe not next year either.”

The committee’s recommendations will be presented on Wednesday to the Health Council, the government body that advises the Health Minister.

JTA contributed this report. 

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