NGO to launch biggest-ever campaign against abortions

‘Focus instead on preventing unwanted pregnancies rather than pressuring women to keep their babies,’ says rights activist.

In the coming days, a heart-wrenching video featuring interviews with women who have had abortions and regretted their decision and with others who decided to keep their babies after considering a termination, will reach some 1.5 million homes in Israel as part of the biggest ever anti-abortion campaign this country has seen.
The campaign is part of the ongoing efforts of non-profit organization Efrat, whose goal, according to its website, “is to inform women faced with unwanted pregnancy that there are choices.”
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Not all unwanted pregnancies must end with an abortion,” explains the organization on its website. “Efrat believes in a woman’s right to free choice and that information is the key to making an educated, well-thought-out choice. An elective abortion is a viable option only after a woman understands the full implications of her decision.”
It is these “implications” that are explained in the emotional, 14-minute video, which is also featured on YouTube in two parts. In addition to the video clip, Efrat, which claims its message is not necessarily entrenched in religious beliefs, will launch simultaneously a series of television and radio commercials encouraging women thinking about aborting a pregnancy to come forward and seek help.
Efrat’s efforts, however, have already been met with controversy after Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Second Authority for Television and Radio pulled a series of their advertisements last year following a large wave of complaints from the public that they were preventing women from making their own personal choices.
A spokesman from public relations company Lerner Com, which is marketing Efrat’s new campaign, said Tuesday that this matter had now been decided by the courts, which ruled that the media campaign could go ahead as planned.
However, women’s rights groups have also been critical of the organization’s activities, saying it makes more sense to focus on improving sexual education in Israel and prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place rather than pressuring women to keep their babies.
According to recently released data from the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), of the 20,000 women who applied for a legal abortion in Israel in 2008, 98.6 percent were approved. Currently, women looking to terminate a pregnancy in this country must apply to a special hospital review committee and are approved under specific stipulations.
The CBS figures from last year showed that 52% of the women who applied for an abortion did so because they had conceived out of wedlock or were pregnant from an illicit relationship; 18.8% were experiencing a complication with the fetus; 18.5% of the pregnancies were endangering the mother’s life and 10.7% of the applications were due to the age of the mother.
Despite the official figures, Dr. Eli Schussheim, who helped found Efrat in 1977 and serves as its voluntary director, said Tuesday that the majority of abortions were more likely due to the mother’s economic conditions and that Efrat’s main goal was to provide women with the financial means to keep their babies.
He also said that he believed the number of abortions each year in Israel to be as high as 60,000, with many women turning to private doctors to perform the procedure, a practice that is illegal but which has not seen anyone prosecuted.
“Efrat has found a way to deal with this problem, and we help women make a choice about their situation after receiving all the information,” stated Schussheim, adding that in his 34 years working with Efrat “the minute most women know all the facts, they do not want to have an abortion.”
On the video clip set to reach the secular Jewish public in Israel in the coming days, Schussheim speaks about the mental anguish and physical complications that can be caused by an abortion. His comments are interspersed with clips of women who once considered not going through with their pregnancies and those who did. The video ends with endearing images of “Efrat babies,” the ones that the organization saved.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post Schussheim explained that while the physical problems that can arise from abortions were important to note, it is the emotional fallout that can often be more detrimental.
“Of all the women I met over the years who wanted to do an abortion, it is those who went through with it who suffered the most,” he said.
However, Nurit Tsur, executive director of the Israel Women’s Network, discounted Efrat’s campaign by saying that many women who go through with their pregnancies can also end up suffering emotionally, and that it should be up to individual women to decide whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.
“The bottom line is that it is the woman’s body, and she should decide what to do with it,” said Tsur, adding that the current process of appealing to a hospital review board was archaic and not relevant in Israeli society.
“There should not be a committee at all. A woman who wants to have an abortion should go to her medical professional or her doctor and then decide what to do,” she said. “It is her life and her health and her body; therefore, it should be solely her decision.”
Tsur pointed out that the campaign to prevent abortions was misguided and would be better directed at how to prevent such unwanted pregnancies and improving sexual education in general.