Why get an abortion? 3 Israeli immigrants explain their choice

Three veteran immigrants to Israel share the reasons why they had to make one of the most difficult decisions in a woman’s life – getting an abortion.

 THE PRO-LIFE vs pro-choice debate. (photo credit: Op Art/TNS)
THE PRO-LIFE vs pro-choice debate.
(photo credit: Op Art/TNS)

Elvia Fisher Meir was 24 weeks pregnant when she went in for a routine external ultrasound. The pregnancy was a smooth one and Meir was eager to welcome the new addition to her family.

That is until her gynecologist asked her a question no expecting mother wants to hear: “Did you know you lost some amniotic fluid?”

Shocked, Meir was whisked to the ER and was told devastating news: Her baby would most likely be severely disabled and, if by some miracle it were to survive, would have severe birth defects.

She was given two options: Either give birth right now and pray the baby is able to survive or terminate the pregnancy.

Well into the end of her second trimester, Meir choose to have an abortion.

 AN ULTRASOUND examination for a pregnant woman at a gynecology clinic in Tel Aviv. (credit: CHEN LEOPOLD/FLASH90) AN ULTRASOUND examination for a pregnant woman at a gynecology clinic in Tel Aviv. (credit: CHEN LEOPOLD/FLASH90)

Now, given the US Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn the landmark ruling of Roe v. Wade, the legality around making such a choice so late into a pregnancy is murky at best in most states.

“Following the US Supreme Court decision in Dobbs that abolished the constitutional right to abortion, strict abortion bans are expected in about half of the states,” said Noya Rimalt, a professor of law at the University of Haifa who specializes in gender issues, criminal law and feminist legal theory. 

“Most of these bans make no exception for severe fetal abnormalities," she said. "Forcing a woman to carry to term a pregnancy that will most likely end with the birth of a child who suffers from severe defects and has hardly any chance to survive is inhumane. It subjects women to the harshest interference with their bodily autonomy. It is inconceivable that at the beginning of the 21st century women still need to endure this legal treatment.”

“Most of these bans make no exception for severe fetal abnormalities. Forcing a woman to carry to term a pregnancy that will most likely end with the birth of a child who suffers from severe defects and has hardly any chance to survive is inhumane. It subjects women to the harshest interference with their bodily autonomy. It is inconceivable that at the beginning of the 21st century women still need to endure this legal treatment.”

Noya Rimalt

In Israel, though, rules regarding abortion have actually been rolled back with some women not having to be physically present in front of the abortion committee and the removal of many invasive questions from the application form, such as whether the expectant mother – or her partner – were using contraceptives.

A difficult but correct decision

In 2015, when Meir was forced to make this decision in Israel, she was presented the facts by a team of doctors and members of the committee, and she, along with her husband, made their choice.

“We didn’t feel equipped to raise a child with special needs,” she said.

While doctors were not allowed to sway the couple in either direction, after they made their choice, the doctor told them they made the right one.

“They said there’s no way the baby would have had a viable, healthy life,” she said.

“If my husband and I were in a position where we had to decide to keep this baby without the option of terminating, my life would have taken a completely different direction. My business, future children and marriage would suffer. It’s every woman’s right to make a decision,” said Meir, who owns CityKids, an educational center for children in Tel Aviv.

The treatment, care and understanding she experienced by the healthcare team gave her the strength to try again and, eventually, Meir went on to have two healthy sons.

When speaking over the phone, she is somber and resolute not only in her choice.

 

NOT EVERY woman who came forward for this article was willing to be open about their decision, however. So much so that “Dafna Schwartz” would not give me her name, from where she made aliyah or where she lives in Israel.

Given her experience, it’s clear why.

“I had a boyfriend at the time. He seemed like a good guy, kind and responsible,” she began. “One night we slept together and he slipped the condom off during sex.”

“That’s all it took,” she said.

“I had a boyfriend at the time. He seemed like a good guy, kind and responsible. One night we slept together and he slipped the condom off during sex. That’s all it took.”

“Dafna Schwartz”

Schwartz never really opened up about the abortion that she had almost 20 years ago. The only person who knows is her best friend and even then, Schwartz doesn’t dare say the word “abortion” out loud.

“We speak in code. Shorthand. But she knows what I’m talking about,” she revealed.

What happened to Schwartz after her boyfriend confessed to removing the condom without her consent has haunted her for the past two decades.

After immediately breaking up with him, it took a few weeks until symptoms began appearing. The painful swelling of her breasts must have been early signs of breast cancer, she assumed.

A visit to the gynecologist proved otherwise – she was pregnant even though she was on birth control and took the Plan B (“morning-after”) pill after that sexual encounter.

Scared, upset and shocked, Schwartz began the bureaucratic process of requesting an abortion. Although her memory is hazy, she recalls being dismissed and maligned every step of the way, with invasive questions from an ultra-Orthodox man sitting on the abortion committee being at the forefront of her mind even today.

“I remember being very anxious and stressed: Being at the mercy of this old haredi (ultra-Orthodox) guy who was going to decide my fate. I didn’t encounter anybody on the medical team who bothered to introduce themselves or explain the procedure. It was very dehumanizing. There was no sense of respect and dignity,” she lamented. “Being there, having to go before a committee was bad enough – even if I don’t remember what he said exactly.”

After much soul-searching and having decided to go through with the abortion, Schwartz was eventually put in stirrups and felt searing pain as an instrument was put inside her in order to prepare her body to eject the fetus.

Sometimes, she still feels those phantom pains between her legs.

LATER, in recovery, she was subjected to more judgment and even promotional pamphlets from EFRAT – an NGO that encourages women contemplating an abortion to keep the baby.

“I think I’m generally a responsible person. I was relatively new to Israel and I was young. The whole thing was terrifying. I had never even had a wisdom tooth [taken] out at that point,” she said.

She left the hospital in searing pain – and with the ultrasound of the fetus that the doctor forced her to take. A few years later, she burned it in her kitchen sink.

When it was finally over, she went home with her best friend. Today, she feels relief, but the pangs of guilt still linger.

“There are times when I think – what if? Did I do the right thing? What would God say? I still don’t have the answers to those questions," she said, "but I think I did the right thing at the time.” 

Still, Schwartz speaks as a woman who has not forgiven herself for the decision she made all those years ago, even musing that her still not having found a life partner yet may be punishment for it. 

“We either have a choice or we don’t,” she says of the new laws both in the US and in Israel. “We either have bodily autonomy or we don’t. The way I was treated not only robbed me of my dignity but the ability to grieve and be angry about what my boyfriend at the time did to me. I was abused by the system at the time.”

AFTER EXPERIENCING several abortions in her lifetime, Linda Gallant had a wildly different experience and doesn’t carry around the emotional baggage that some women do in the aftermath of having an abortion.

Gallant, who made aliyah from England in 1984, first got pregnant in the early ’80s while on a vacation in Israel. She returned to England for her final year of studies and found herself pregnant. Knowing that this wasn’t the right time for her to be a mother, she told her parents and they helped her through the process.

“It never occurred to me that I made the wrong decision," she said. "I believe when you have a child you need to have the emotional and economic resources to provide the best possible life for the child – otherwise, it’s not fair to them. There are so many children who probably shouldn’t have been born because their mothers were not given the choice to make a decision on termination.” 

Gallant had another premarital pregnancy shortly after her aliyah to Israel in 1984. Again, the circumstances were not right for her to go through with the pregnancy and she felt the only option was to terminate. She also experienced the abortion system after having three children, including one child with a serious genetic disease. At the time she did not feel she would be able to give any more of herself to another child when her hands were full with her three young children.

She speaks glowingly of the (mostly) effective and empathetic medical staff in Israel who helped her through each one of these experiences.

“I never saw the termination of early pregnancy as a big moral decision and I don’t understand the debate about it. The discourse around abortion is horrific. It’s every woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body," Gallant said.

“If you talk about things, it makes it easier. I don’t think anybody should feel ashamed of anything they’ve been through,” she said. “I hope people don’t hate me for what I’ve done, but I guess there are people who think I’m disgusting, but they’re not good people. You have to accept people for who they are.” ■