Three Ladies, Three Lattes: Could abortion rights be revoked in Israel?

It’s so terrifying for women in America these days with Roe vs Wade being challenged in so many conservative states.

June 28, 2019 08:11
4 minute read.
Three Ladies, Three Lattes: Could abortion rights be revoked in Israel?

PLANNED PARENTHOOD president Dr. Leana Wen speaks at a protest against anti-abortion legislation at the US Supreme Court in Washington on June 20.. (photo credit: REUTERS/JAMES LAWLER DUGGAN)

It’s so terrifying for women in America these days with Roe vs Wade being challenged in so many conservative states. With the undue influence of the haredi sector on our Israeli government, do you fear abortion rights will soon be revoked here? Where do you three ladies stand on these issues?
A recent immigrant from America

Tzippi Sha-ked:
In Israel, abortion doesn’t seem linked to identity politics, nor is it (yet) the center of a political storm. Still, although discussion on women’s reproductive rights hasn’t been hijacked by haredim, it is influenced by Torah-centered sensitivities.
Haaretz cites an estimated 40,000 Israeli abortions a year – mostly state-funded – with a high approval rate from the required three-person abortion committee. The Abortion Law of 1977 requires at least one of five criteria for approval: women must be under 18 or over 40; unmarried; the fetus has a serious defect; rape, incest or adultery; physical/emotional danger to the mother.
I’m less troubled about putting the woman at the center of this issue than I am about the vast numbers of abortions. I’m horrified by “inconvenience” abortions. And although I operate through Torah lenses, I still grapple with Judaism’s stances on this matter.
Last week, my married daughter found a two-week-old abandoned kittten, cited dorm regulations against pets, kissed it farewell and left me gasping for oxygen. In the blur of three hourly adorable kitty feedings (ongoing, folks) I find time to wince at Torah laws that possibly contribute to strays on our streets. Laws against animal neutering and spaying lead to “kill shelters.”
I’m not suggesting religious Jews contribute disproportionately to abortion numbers, but rabbis should sanction human birth control so religious women’s uteruses don’t wind up as “baby kill shelters.” The choice to keep Torah laws that may sideline contraceptives should not lead by default to moral violations of an even higher magnitude.

Pam Peled:
This morning I hauled myself out of bed for tennis at dawn, and my car didn’t start. The competent mechanic who changed the battery was, surprisingly, a young woman. She refused coffee but requested an anti-inflammatory pill; she had woken to awful period pains. You couldn’t make this stuff up: gender role reversal, women’s empowerment, biology.
I returned to my computer contemplating whether, if men had to carry babies to term, nurse them and mother them, they would have the same attitude toward abortion. It seems strange that it’s men who mainly determine these laws, even today. Of course, I believe that women should have full agency over their bodies: birth control and abortion are the woman’s decision (ideally, in tandem with her partner). Of course, she can consult with parents and doctors and rabbis/priests; still, the final word has to be hers.
In Israel, this is largely the case; women can opt for abortion if they fit the fairly lenient criteria. But the pressure is on: huge, heartrending pictures of a morose mother (shedding a single tear) are plastered over public spaces and buses around Israel. Efrat, a nonprofit organization that “empowers women to make an informed choice about their pregnancy,” run by a religious (male) gynecologist, is proud to have “saved” over 73,000 children (the inference being that abortion equals murder). Set up by a (male) Holocaust survivor, the onus on newly pregnant women is stark – aborting your baby harms the Jews.
You have to wonder whether that’s fair.

Danit Shemesh:
I was a strident pro-choice flag carrier 30 years ago. My focus was solely political; I aligned myself with the roar of feminism and fierce independence. Pro-lifers seemed primitive to me.
Birth control blew open a once-sealed door to women’s sexuality. It equalized the playing field. The idea of lady-in-waiting was finally eradicated. This unveiling of women’s sexuality seemed unmitigated good news. But the years have taught me that this is true only within the proper context.
Women’s free sexuality carries the possible biological consequence of unwanted pregnancy. While I would never advise forcing a woman to carry and birth a baby unwillingly, the subject is more than political. What medicine calls “abortion” or “termination of pregnancy” turns a blind eye to the fact that what is being terminated is a potential life. To ignore that is to say “Don’t bother me with the facts; my mind’s made up.”
Halacha appreciates women’s biological predicament by allowing abortion when the mother is endangering her physical or emotional well-being. The fetus is then considered a “pursuer.”
In our world, we view having many children as a blessing. Rather than family “planning,” we assess how each woman feels: case by case, month by month. She may ask her rabbi for birth control; he usually takes the request seriously and grants it at three-month intervals.
A woman’s biology, as well as her sexuality, is respected and even revered halachically. It’s positioned in the center of family purity and family planning.

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