The Knesset plenum approved in its first reading a proposal to extend paid maternity leave from 14 to 16 weeks. The law - proposed by Likud faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar and MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) - was officially opposed by the government, and the voting on the bill, which passed by a majority of 54 to 38, was split. "The Knesset made its voice heard today against the destructive intent of the Finance Ministry to harm hundreds of thousands of working women and young families. Extending paid maternity leave by two additional weeks will help to reduce the number of women who must give up on their work after their maternity leave, [and] will aid the reintegration of women into the workforce and the combination of parenthood and work," said Sa'ar and Yacimovich. Yacimovich argued that the government's opposition to the bill on the basis of its projected expense was not legitimate, as the funding for the extension of leave came from National Insurance Institute funds, which working women paid. Furthermore, Sa'ar added, the NII - unlike the Treasury - maintains a positive balance that can easily accommodate the subsidy for the law. Minutes later, the Knesset approved another bill in its first reading, by a vote of 60 to 31, that would offer tax credits to working mothers, recognizing childcare as a work-related expense in annual tax forms. The proposal was sponsored by Sa'ar, Meretz faction head Zehava Gal-On, Shas faction chairman Ya'acov Margi, and MKs Uri Ariel (NU/NRP), Ronit Tirosh (Kadima), Orit Noked (Labor) and Nadia Hilou (Labor). The bill's sponsors presented data from the Central Bureau of Statistics indicating that 81.5 percent of Jewish women and 95.2% of Arab women who have young children do not participate in the workforce because of the demands of childcare. Of the women who work part-time, 46% do so only so they can care for their children. On Tuesday, in another development to step up the status of mothers, the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women called on the Health Ministry and the NII to "halt discrimination" against women who choose to give birth at home and to give them the same childbirth allotment automatically given to women who deliver in hospitals. The committee said there was no law prohibiting women from intentionally giving birth at home (with help from a midwife), and therefore the NII should not penalize those who do so or who do not come to a hospital within 24 hours of delivery and spend at least 12 hours there. The committee, chaired by MK Lia Shemtov (Israel Beiteinu), said that "the state has a right to give grants and preferences to those who choose a path preferred by the authorities. But it is unfairly using the payment mechanism of the NII to favor some women over others, even though every one has the right to decide where and how she wants to deliver her baby." As childbirth allotments - NIS 1,489 for the first child, less for subsequent children and much more for multiple births - are given to all mothers and not only the economically disadvantaged, "it is not clear why women who pay for national insurance should not be entitled to the grants," said Shemtov. The committee asked the NII for internal guidelines regarding the demand that mothers give birth in hospitals or at least go there within 24 hours of delivery. The committee called on MKs who wanted to change this policy, to initiate a private members' bill. The Health Ministry has long had a policy opposing home births and argued that hospital births were the safest method, as a midwife could not easily handle emergencies and lacked vital equipment to carry out such deliveries in the woman's home. The hospitals have a vested interest in opposing home births, because they earn a generous sum - NIS 8,000 - from the NII for every baby they deliver. The cost of a midwife at home ranges from NIS 4,000 to NIS 5,000. Women who want to have their babies at home argue that childbirth is a "natural process" and "not a disease that requires hospitalization."