Health minister announces abortion reforms to ease process, contrasts move with US ruling

Minister of Health Nitzan Horowitz speaks at a meeting of his Meretz faction in the Knesset on June 27, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Minister of Health Nitzan Horowitz speaks at a meeting of his Meretz faction in the Knesset on June 27, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

For the first time in 30 years, the Knesset Health Committee approves sweeping abortion reforms under which women will be able to have an early-stage pharmaceutically induced termination at a clinic instead of a hospital and will not need to appear in front of the much-criticized abortion panels, the Health Ministry says.

According to previously announced changes, women will be able to complete the necessary paperwork online, instead of having to do it in person.

In addition, a woman requesting an abortion will not be required to initially meet with a social worker. If they do wish to meet with one, the social worker’s job will be to provide support.

The new regulations will take effect within three months, the Health Ministry said.

Although the planned reforms have been in the works for some time, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz hails the changes as a response to last week’s ruling in the US Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

“The right to a woman’s body belongs to the woman alone. The US Supreme Court’s move to deny a woman the right to her body is a dark move, oppressing women and returning the leader of the free and liberal world a hundred years backwards. We are in a different place, and today we are taking big steps in the right direction,” Horowitz says.

“We abolished archaic procedures that were meant ‘to prevent unnecessary abortions,’ removed degrading questions, allowed some abortions at health clinics, abolished the obligation to appear before the committee, and most importantly — strengthened the woman’s most fundamental right to her body and life,” Horowitz says.

Under Israeli law, women do not have an automatic right to an abortion, but rather must request permission from a legally mandated end-of-pregnancy committee made up of three representatives of the hospital or clinic that would perform the procedure.

The panels, which approve the lion’s share of requests, are meant to vet cases based on criteria such as a woman’s age, how the pregnancy came about, and the health of the fetus.

Activists have complained for years that the panels are needlessly invasive and humiliating, and some feel that they have no choice but to lie to the committee in order to be granted permission. The committees rarely prevent a woman from terminating her pregnancy, making the process effectively pointless as well.

In addition, there are only 38 committees across the country, and it can be hard to schedule appointments with some of them due to application quotas. Women face long wait times to schedule an appointment, and face travel and time constraints in accessing the panels.

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