The Israel Defense Forces intends to start providing emergency contraceptive pills to female soldiers in an effort to decrease the number of abortions carried out among members of the armed forces.
According to figures published by Army Radio, 839 soldiers underwent abortions last year, costing the army, which defrays all of the cost of the procedure, some NIS 4 million ($1.1 million).
An IDF source involved in health care for soldiers told The Times of Israel that the morning-after pills would be available via army health services on a case-by-case basis.
The army already provides a range of services aimed at preventing unwanted pregnancies or coping with those that do occur.
“It is an aspect of soldier health,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous. “Education is a very significant part of this.”
In addition to education programs, female soldiers can obtain up to three months’ worth of contraceptive pills at a time.
Condoms are available for purchase on all bases as well, and female personnel can also ask to have long-acting intrauterine devices inserted during their time in the army, and have them removed at the end of their service. All medical costs are covered by the army.
Despite the awareness training, there are always unplanned incidents, the source said, including something as simple as a torn condom.
Soldiers who become pregnant can call a 24-hour call center that provides discreet support through the entire process of getting an abortion, a procedure that also requires approval from Health Ministry panels.
“There are a lot of implications. The goal is that no one should know and it be taken care off as soon as possible — not the commander, not the family,” the source said. “That is best.”
The figure of 839 abortions by soldiers — 730 of which were taken care of by the army — marks a 16 percent drop from the 1,000 unwanted pregnancies in 2014.
The source noted that there is no evidence that women are more likely to become pregnant while serving in the army.
Israel has always had a liberal stance on abortion, allowing women facing medical emergencies or those who are victims of rape or abuse to receive subsidies to help them terminate their pregnancies. Women under the age of 20 or over the age of 40 were also previously eligible for subsidized abortions, regardless of the reason.
Outside of those regulations, women can apply for abortions for reasons ranging from an emotional or mental threat caused by the pregnancy to not being married to the baby’s father. All women who seek to end a pregnancy must appear before a three-member committee to state their case, but 98% of requests are approved.
In 2014, Israel increased government subsidies for pregnancy termination, offering its female citizens some of the most liberal abortion coverage in the world. The Health Ministry included free-of-charge abortions for women ages 20-33 in its state-subsidized “health basket,” the package of medications and services that all Israeli citizens are entitled to under the nation’s health care system. No medical reason for the abortion is required.
The newly amended health care package was estimated at the time to cost the state some NIS 16 million ($4.6 million).