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Executive Summary

Israel has maintained a pro-natalist policy with regard to reproductive care.  The State provides health care along the continuum from family planning services through childbirth.  Much of reproductive care is funded by the government and through Health Funds.  This report analyzes various factors that have impacted Israel’s approach to reproductive care and discusses the governing law as well as the types and amounts of government funding that are allocated for reproductive care.

Israel’s reproductive care policy appears to reflect Jewish religious, cultural, and social norms regarding fertility.  Parenthood is considered a basic human right based on biblical and other Jewish religious sources.  The personal desire for parenthood, and specifically motherhood, has been engrained in Jewish culture and has been strengthened by the historical persecution of Jews in the Diaspora and particularly by the genocide perpetrated against Jews in the Holocaust.  The continuing loss of life in Arab-Israeli wars and terrorist acts, combined with constant threats to the State’s existence by hostile powers in the region, have also been linked to Israelis’ attitudes regarding procreation.

Israel’s pro-natalist approach is supported by legislation regulating in vitro fertilization (IVF), ova extraction, the use of semen in IVF fertilization, ova donation and allocation, and surrogacy agreements.  The regulation of assisted reproductive technology (ART) in Israel appears to support reproductive choice while respecting certain religious and cultural considerations.

A person’s right to procreate has been recognized in Supreme Court rulings, especially in the leading case of Nachmani v. Nachmani, where the Court held that in the special circumstances of that case the right of a woman to motherhood was superior to her husband’s right not to be a father.

The recognition of the importance of parenthood and the superior right to motherhood, however, has not resulted in recognition of a woman’s full autonomy over her reproductive status.  By law, a woman does not have a general right to choose to terminate her pregnancy.  An interruption of pregnancy may be permitted under certain circumstances by special committees for the interruption of pregnancies established by hospitals or the Ministry of Health.  Such circumstances include the age of the woman; the pregnancy deriving from rape, incest, or an out-of-wedlock relationship; and fetal disabilities and physical or mental danger to the mother posed by continuation of the pregnancy.  In spite of these restrictions, in reality, abortions are performed in Israel, with and without authorization.  The penal provision that prohibits unauthorized abortions does not appear ever to have been enforced.

The lack of interest in prosecution reflects the limited scope of the abortion debate in Israel.  It has been reported that over 98% of all requests for abortions to the committees have been approved and that the rate of abortions has generally declined in recent years.  In addition to funding legally authorized abortions, the State funds the provision of family planning information and subsidizes contraceptives.

In spite of the general low level of interest in this topic, an increased awareness of competing views on abortions has been sparked with the introduction of a bill in 2009 designed to repeal the legal requirement for a committees’ approval for abortions.  Religious leaders and their representatives in the Knesset have recently expressed objections to abortion procedures based on religious grounds.  A bill calling for prohibiting abortions under any circumstances following the twenty-second week of pregnancy has been twice defeated, most recently in November 2011.

There are several Israeli as well as American PACs and NGOs with opposite agendas on reproductive policy in Israel.  They, however, do not appear to have any significant impact on reproductive policy in Israel.

Full Report (PDF, 121KB)

Last Updated: 02/28/2014