January 24, 2010
Just got this from ProZion, the half-decent Zionist organisation.
MKs decry Chief Rabbinate's attempts to discourage a woman's right to choose
By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
Abortion was the subject of a heated Knesset discussion on Tuesday when the Committee for the Advancement of Women met to talk about the Chief Rabbinate's recent letter in which the country's highest religious authority asked local rabbis to work to reduce abortions in Israel.
"There is nothing more important than encouraging births - according to the commentaries - and it is our role to raise the awareness on the subject of abortions," Rabbi Yehudah Deri, a member of the Chief Rabbinical Council, said during the committee hearing. "Women must be aware - many women don't know that the significance of abortion is murder. The information that we distributed was a rabbinic ruling that abortion is murder, the halacha sees a fetus as a living person."
"Someone is trying to make this a political issue," complained MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) in response. "The Chief Rabbinate is in no manner meant to hold hearings on topics of pregnancies, and the decision belongs to each woman. We cannot turn a woman's body into a political matter. That attempt is inappropriate and unacceptable."
There are an estimated 20,000 legal abortions, and an additional 20,000 illegal abortions carried out annually in Israel. Under Israeli law, abortions are permissible if the woman is younger than seventeen or older than forty, if the pregnancy was conceived under illegal circumstances such as rape or incest, or outside of marriage, if the fetus has a physical or mental birth defect or if continuation of the pregnancy could put a woman's life, health or mental well-being at risk.
In order to have a legal abortion carried out by a recognized practitioner, a woman must seek approval from a three-person review committee, of which at least one of the members must be a woman. Two of the members must be licensed physicians, and the third must be a social worker.
During the hearing, MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima) blasted the Chief Rabbinate's letter and called for an end to what she described as the "humiliating" review committees.
"The chief rabbis of Israel who receive their salaries from the country are trying through statements and scare tactics to force women not to have abortions," said Zuaretz. "The rabbis are demanding the establishment of a committee against abortions that has no place in a democratic society, in which women are not allowed to decide regarding their own bodies."
The Health Ministry's representative, Nirit Pesah, said that Israel's abortion rate was among the lowest in the world, and that there has been a decline in the number of abortions annually. Pesach denied allegations that the panels that women who wish to have an abortion must face are humiliating, adding that "everything is done so that the experience is pleasant and professional."
She further added that in most cases, the committee manages to "figure out" when women are lying to the panel.