Why Israel's New Abortion Policy Should Have America Re-Think Its Own

Just before the New Year, a panel of Israeli health officials recommended a new policy suggesting that starting January 1, the state pay for all abortions, regardless of circumstance, for women ages 20 to 33. If approved by the Israel Ministry of Health, this would mark a departure from previous state policy, in which abortions were only subsidized on conditions of rape, sexual abuse, or medical emergency.

The altered initiative is expected to amount to an additional $4.6 million, bringing the total state cost to an estimated $7 million, with an additional 6,300 eligible women having the option of abortion in 2014.

When I first heard of this policy, I was shocked. As a current resident of Israel, I can attest, from personal experience, that it is one of the most religious and conservative countries in the world -- inter-faith marriages are still forbidden, after all. Civil unions are recent (started in 2010) and are only allowed in certain circumstances.

Israel also remains currently engaged in a demographic war with its Palestinian inhabitants; in Israel, family life starts early, and multi-children households are encouraged (and, it should be noted, in vitro fertilization is another medical procedure that is fully funded by the state).

Israeli officials indicated that the decision to expand the subsidy policy was logically financial.

According to Professor Jonathan Halevy, the head of the health committee that suggested this policy, “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.”

The Israeli committee that introduced this new policy should be applauded for recognizing that a woman’s right to control her body, in any circumstance, should take precedence over the archaic view that having an abortion is an irresponsible act upon which the rest of society can render judgment and withhold resources.

Israel’s move to subsidize terminations of pregnancy, regardless of circumstance, embraces the idea that women who have made the difficult decision to have an abortion (and, per the current law, discuss this decision with a medical committee), deserve an abortion; they should be able to, regardless of their financial situation, exercise that form of control over their bodies and how their lives turns out. It’s a woman’s right to choose -- plain and simple -- without complicating this decision with the economic burden, which sadly remains a determinant for many women who wish to terminate their pregnancies, but simply can’t for financial reasons.

The belief that women should have an unhindered ability to make decisions for their bodies is a real departure from how abortion is framed in the US, where we’ve distorted the issue of a woman’s reproductive right into a collective, moral matter. In our times of super-saturated social media, where anyone can assert his or her expertise or opinion, individuals, like former-child-stars-turned-born-again-Christians and TLC reality TV talent, are vying for airtime to influence public opinion. The legality of abortion is debated, while taxpayer dollars are denied, making abortion the only medical procedure that has been banned from Medicaid.

We’ve prohibited abortions from subsidizations because we still ascribe to the above notion that subsidized abortions wouldn’t just be payments; they’d be payouts for irresponsible (and, in some Sarah Palin*-esque circles, immoral) behavior.

Abortion should not be a "luxury," given to only those who can afford it. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the median cost for a surgical abortion in 2009 was $470, with medicine-induced abortions costing an average of $483. In Israel, this cost is slightly higher, ranging from $605 to $800, depending on the type of termination.

Just as Israel has offered to extend abortion subsidies to ensure that women are able to live their lives as they choose, the US should similarly make amendments on a woman’s right to maintain true control over her body and her future. Instead, the Hyde Amendment (an outdated provision originally passed in 1976) prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions, except in cases of rape or incest.

While conservatives in Israel are balking the possibility of this new provision, and America’s religious demographic and right-wingers continue to stigmatize abortion, it’s timely to remind ourselves that both countries do not fully cover the cost of contraceptives in their respective healthcare plans. This unfortunate truth doesn’t aid in the epidemic of unwanted or unplanned pregnancies in the first place.

*Palin, who reportedly designated herself as the “biggest friend that Israel has” and has previously described abortion as an “atrocity,” is probably sh*tting herself right now.

Photo credit: WENN