Don’t Tell the American Right, but Abortion is Legal in Israel
By Liv Sher
For Jewish Israelis, Trump’s Presidency was a massive success. The former president’s largely Evangelical base overwhelmingly supports the Jewish state. A lifeway research study in December of 2017 found that around 70% of all Evangelicals support Israel. The former President took many friendly actions towards the Jewish state, at least partially to please his bloc of likely voters. From the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the Golan Heights as being under Israeli sovereignty, to the former President’s condemnation of Hamas, the Trump administration was viewed by many as a gift to Israel.
However, while Israel and the Christian right may be in harmony in terms of U.S. foreign policy, Israeli attitudes and laws radically diverge from evangelical beliefs on the what might be the most salient issue to conservative Republicans: abortion.
Abortion access has been a hot topic of debate in the United States recently with the evangelical right pushing for more and more restrictions. According to a Pew Research Center study, 63% of Evangelical protestants believe abortion should be illegal in almost all cases, in contrast to the 15% of American Jews who hold such beliefs.
Under Israeli law, abortion is fully legal and often heavily subsidized as long as it meets any of the following conditions:
- The pregnant woman in question is under 18 or over 40.
- The woman is not married.
- The fetus has a serious mental or physical defect.
- The pregnancy is the result of rape, incest or adultery.
- Carrying the pregnancy to term is liable to endanger the woman’s life or cause her physical or emotional damage.
- The mother is serving in the Israeli Defense Force, for whom abortion is completely subsidized.
- Additionally, in a revision of the national health coverage law in 2014, abortions became free to all women between 20 and 33, regardless of their circumstances.
Abortion access isn’t as simple as walking into a clinic and obtaining a free abortion. Any healthy married woman between 18–40 who wants a free or heavily subsidized abortion in a public facility must face a pregnancy termination committee. This committee is composed of social workers and doctors, and women must justify their decision to have the abortion approved. Women who do not wish to endure the committee must shell out hundreds of dollars to obtain an abortion privately. In practice, these abortion committees are easy to bypass. In a 2016 study by the Central Bureau of Statistics, 18,032 women applied to abortion comittees for approval to end their pregnancies; of those, 92.3% were approved.
Israel presents a contrasting picture to the United States. Abortion is easy to access and affordable. There aren’t protestors outside of clinics comparing it to mass murder or harassing women seeking medical care. For the past decade, Israel’s abortion laws have remained relatively untouched, with no changes being proposed to increase restrictions. In 2013, when two chief rabbis came out in support of an anti-abortion religious organization, another leading rabbi criticized the declaration and responded that abortion is not murder.
The abortion debate in Israel differs from the United States because of one key detail: neither Islam nor Judaism outright ban the procedure or view it as murder. Evangelical Christians hold much influence over the state, pouring billions of dollars into advocacy and aid projects in the country. As abortion becomes more of a hard-line issue for the Christian right, it begs the question: what path will Israel choose? It is not an easy choice, as Evangelical support of Israel is key for continued positive relations between the U.S government and the Jewish state.
As Evangelicals in the United States make abortion increasingly central to their political mission, it begs another question: will this extinguish their the support for the Jewish State? Only time will tell, but one thing is clear: as America begins to tighten access to abortion in new and often extreme ways, Israel’s policy remains steady and unchanged. Jewish and Islamic laws are clear about abortion access and, so far, Christian supersessionism (which holds that Jesus’s New Covenant with God supercedes the Jewish Old Covenant) hasn’t been instituted. Women in Israel enjoy the right to choose, and Israel would do well to keep control over this institution.