Beginning in 2014, Israel may cover the cost of elective abortions for women in between the ages of 20 and 33. Health officials in the country recommended the new policy on Monday, and indicated they eventually intend to expand it to offer abortion funding to women of all ages. It now heads to country’s Health Ministry for approval.
In Israel, a health committee determines which treatments will be funded through government dollars by approving some medical services for inclusion in a state-subsidized “heath basket,” and sends their recommendations to the entire Health Ministry for official approval. Before the proposed update to this basket, women under the age of 20 or over the age of 40 could receive subsidized abortion services for personal reasons — but women in between those age groups could only get abortion funding if they were suffering a medical emergency, or if their pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.
If the policy is updated in line with the new recommendations, an additional 6,300 women may be eligible to seek state funding for abortion care.
In a press conference on Monday, the committee members explained that the rule change is necessary because not every women can afford the reproductive care she needs without state assistance. “It was brought to our attention that there is a large group of women between 20 and 40 who for various reasons — financial or reasons of secrecy — do not terminate pregnancies,” Prof. Jonathan Halevy, who heads the panel that makes the final recommendations for the health basket, explained.
Halevy indicated that the committee is waiting for more funding to be able to expand the health basket to include elective abortions for all age groups. State-subsidized contraceptives are not currently available because of limited funds; the committee was allowed to use the equivalent of $86 million USD to expand the services offered in the basket.
Abortion is less of a hot-button issue in Israel than it is in the United States. Although ending a pregnancy is technically illegal in Israel, punishable by up to five years in prison, there are a wide range of exceptions under which abortion is permitted. Before obtaining state funding for abortion, women have to appear before a government panel of experts and explain why they need one — but approval is practically automatic. Women seeking abortions do not need consent from a man, and minors don’t need consent from their parents. Women serving in the military have access to at least one state-funded abortion.
Here in the United States, lawmakers have taken the opposite approach, moving to ban taxpayer-funded abortions at all costs. The strict separation between state dollars and abortion services has resulted in a deep economic divide among the women who have unintended pregnancies. The poorest women in the U.S. often can’t afford the cost of abortion, and end up slipping deeper into poverty after carrying unintended pregnancies to term. Nonetheless, a mounting pile of state-level abortion restrictions continues to drive up the cost of reproductive care in this country.