Israel’s abortion rate continues to fall, report says

Despite liberal policies, termination rate drops 21% since 1990 to 117 for every 1,000 live births in 2012

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

Illustrative: Ultrasound. (via Shutterstock)
Illustrative: Ultrasound. (via Shutterstock)

The rate of abortions among Israeli women has been declining for the past quarter-century, a trend that continued in 2012, according to a Health Ministry report released Tuesday.

Israeli women filed 21,689 abortion requests in 2012 to the health system’s pregnancy termination committees. The vast majority, or 97%, of the requests were approved by the committees, and 20,063 were carried out. Some 1,000 abortions that were approved were not carried out.

The Health Ministry’s figures mean that Israel sees 117 terminations for every 1,000 live births, a decline from approximately 150 in the early 1990s.

Overall, the rate of abortions has dropped 21% since 1990, 13% since 2000 and 8% since 2006.

Israel’s laws dealing with abortion are fairly liberal by international standards, allowing women facing medical emergencies or those who are victims of rape or abuse to receive subsidies to help them terminate their pregnancies. 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.

Last month, the Health Ministry’s expert committee on the “health basket,” the package of medical services subsidized by the state, decided to subsidize abortions for women age 20-33. Women under the age of 20 or over the age of 40 were already eligible for subsidized abortions. The decision affects an estimated 6,000 women seeking to terminate their pregnancies each year, costing the state some NIS 16 million ($4.6 million).

Yet despite its liberal abortion policies, Israeli abortion rates are significantly lower than many Western countries.

Employing the figure usually used for comparing abortion rates – terminations per 1,000 women of fertile age (15-44) – Israel registered 10.7 terminations in 2012, compared to 14.2 for the United Kingdom in 2010, 17.4 for France in 2009, 13.7 for Canada in 2009 and 14.6 for the United States in 2010, according to figures collected by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Israel’s 117 terminations for every 1,000 live births in 2012 are similarly low compared to the 228 recorded by the CDC in the United States in 2010.

About half of Israeli women who requested abortions in 2012, or 54%, gave as their reason the fact that they were unmarried, or that the pregnancy was due to illicit sexual relations or incest. The Health Ministry figures do not separate these reasons, which are lumped together in the statistics because they are cited together as acceptable reasons for termination under Article 2 of the 1977 law regulating abortions.

A further 19% of the requests cited health risks to the mother, 18% cited congenital physical or mental defects in the fetus, and 9% cited the mother’s age as being below 17, the minimum legal age of marriage, or above 40.

Women are also aborting sooner than in the past, according to the Health Ministry. The percentage of women aborting by the seventh week (inclusive) was 48% in 2000, but rose to 62% by 2012.

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