Two Abortion Bills Approved by Knesset on First Reading; Orthodox Mks Issue Bitter Protests
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Two Abortion Bills Approved by Knesset on First Reading; Orthodox Mks Issue Bitter Protests

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Two bills legalizing abortion in Israel were approved yesterday by the Knesset on first reading and sent to committee despite bitter protests from religious members of the Knesset. The more moderate of the two measures, submitted by Labor MK Haviv Shimoni on behalf of 15 Knesset sponsors, would permit abortion only if approved by a special medical board.

The bill, backed by Health Minister Victor Shemtov, was approved by a vote of 43-13. The second measure, presented by Marcia Freedman of the Civil Rights Party, would permit abortion at the request of the mother during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. It passed by a vote of 26-14. Six MKs, including former Foreign Minister Abba Eban, abstained in both votes.


The final adoption of either of the bills by the Knesset after the three readings required by law, would make legal a situation that has long existed in Israel where 40-60,000 abortions are performed annually. The Shimoni bill incorporates most of the recommendations of a committee of experts appointed by Shemtov some time ago to consider the problem.

Shemtov told the Knesset today that while he supports the measure, more attention should be given to family planning services that would reduce the number of abortions. The Health Minister’s remarks were interrupted by shouts from MKs of the three Orthodox factions–including the National Religious Party which is a member of the government coalition.


They attacked the abortion bills as legalized “mass murder of Jews worse than that committed by Pharaoh who ordered only male Jews thrown into the river.” They charged that legal abortion was what Israel needed least at a time when it is “surrounded by a sea of Arabs,” that Israel was investing fortunes in aliya but would allow “the murder of Jews contrary to Jewish tradition which sees a blessing in having many children.”

However, the Orthodox outcry was ignored by the Knesset. Ironically, the Committee on Law and Constitution which will discuss both measures is chaired by an Orthodox MK, former Religious Affairs Minister Zerach Warhaftig, a leader of the NRP.

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