Abortion Rates in Israel on the Decline: Down 1% in 2018, 10% Since 2010

The midwives, fearing Hashem, did not do as the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live. Exodus 1:17 (The Israel Bible™)

The sad news is that Israeli women underwent 18,209 legal abortions approved by state committees in 2018, the last year for which statistics have been collected. The good news is that the abortion rate declined by one percent compared to that in 2017 and 18% since 2010, despite population growth.

The Health Ministry, which is responsible for supervision of legal abortion procedures, said in its annual report on the subject that there were 19,543 applications for abortions in 2018. The gap represents applications that were not approved by the public committees and cases in which women decided not to go through with it.

These committees consist of three members, two of whom are licensed physicians, and one a social worker. Of the two doctors, one must be a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology and the other an ob/gyn or a specialist in internal medicinepsychiatryfamily medicine or public health. At least one member must be a woman.

Abortion in Israel is permitted when approved by a committee under one of four clauses: The woman is younger than 17 years and older than 40; the pregnancy was conceived under illegal circumstances (such as rape or statutory rape) in an incestuous relationship or outside of marriage; the fetus may have a physical or mental birth defect; or when continuing the pregnancy may put the woman’s life in risk or damage her physically or mentally. Under these circumstances, the government has been paying for an abortion in women younger than 33 since 2014.

The rate of abortion in Israel has steadily declined since 1988, largely due to better contraception methods, the availability in pharmacies of the abortion pill (Mifegyne, which acts by blocking the effects of a hormone needed for pregnancy to continue and softens and dilates the opening to the uterus) within days of conception; and the reduced number of fertile-age women from the former Soviet Union who in their native country used abortion as a contraceptive. Another reason may be that the Jewish and Muslim populations of Israel have become more observant than in previous decades. Abortion rates among women who came from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia remain higher than Israeli-born women. Abortion rates among Muslim women have increased slightly in recent years.

According to government data, in Israel, abortion rates in 2016 have dropped steadily to nine per 1,000 women of childbearing age, lower than England (16.2) and the US (13.2). Fully 99% of abortions are carried out during the first three months.

Although the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox parties do not like abortion in general and encourage organizations that try to persuade women niot to have one, the abortion issue is much less controversial in Israel than in the US. This is because Jewish law allows abortions to save the mother’s life and most rabbinical arbiters do not forbid abortions performed for good reasons before the fetus is 40 days old (the Talmud cites the view of Rabbi Hisda that “until 40 days from conception, the fetus is merely water. It is not yet considered a living being”).

In 2018, 64% of pregnancy terminations were up to 7th week, 22% between weeks eight and 12 and 14% in 13th week. In 2017, there were 333 late pregnancy terminations after the 23rd week.

In 2018, 53% of pregnancy terminations were based on the clause that the pregnancy results from prohibited relationships under criminal law, incest or out of wedlock; 18% under the section that “continuing the pregnancy could endanger woman’s life or cause her physical or mental damage”, 20% under the section that the fetus may have a physical or mental defect  and 10% under section in which the woman is below the minimum age of marriage or is 40 or older.

Abortion rates in Israel are low, ranking second lowest out of 28 European countries. Among young women up to age 20, the rate in Israel is ranked 10th; among women aged 35 and over, the rate in Israel is ranked fourth out of 28 European countries.

The number of illegal abortions in Israel was not estimated in the report.