I recently returned from a two-week trip to Israel. The area has a certain pull for me. My father is Israeli and I grew up taking frequent trips there, spending summers with cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles. This was my son’s first time, and I have a feeling he’s grown just as attached.
That’s not to sugar coat the challenging aspects of the region and its people. But that is a post for another time (and trust, I have 34 years of conflicted feelings to process on that).
No, instead I want to talk about Israel and the country’s relationship with reproductive health. From afar, things look pretty good in the land of milk and honey. The country provides universal health care, and is actually ranked #4 in the world in terms of efficiency (compared to the US’s #46 ranking). And when it comes to reproductive health – particularly abortion care – at first glance their policies sound pretty progressive: There is no limit on the age of gestation, no parental consent policy for minors, and abortion services are now mostly covered for all women up to the age of 33.
So what’s the catch?
In order to procure an abortion, you need to go before a committee of health care providers and plead your case. That’s right, while the policies are fairly progressive, you’re unable to actually access them unless a committee approves you. And, it should be noted, it is the committee that decides the method of abortion as well. (Yes, you read that right).
It’s been reported that about 98% of all requests for abortion have been approved, but that shouldn’t overshadow the problematic issue here. There’s no real choice in this pro-choice country. Over at the Times of Israel, Shari Eshet writes about the way abortion works in Israel, diving into the history as well as looking at the current push to eliminate the committee. Eshet notes that this is the only medical procedure in Israel that is subject to committee approval. As long at Israel has abortion by committee, they aren’t truly pro-choice.
I almost wonder if this idea of committee approval is worse than the more stringent laws we have here? It’s as if they dangle the idea of choice in front of people, knowing that it’s not theirs to make. Are they saying they know better? The control over the decision is essentially stripped from the hands of the person seeking an abortion, and regardless of the fact that almost all requests are approved, there is still the very real notion of needing to go through a gate keeper for this one type of care. There is a very patriarchal and patronizing feel about the whole thing.
It will be interesting to see what happens from here. Will Israel truly live up to the progressive ideal they’ve purported or will they continue to merely provide the illusion of choice?