Coalition Crisis Threatened by Controversial Abortion Bill

A coalition crisis threatened anew today after a compromise formula intended to remove opposition to a controversial abortion law amendment was rejected by the Aguda Israel’s “Council of Sages. “The measure, demanded by the Aguda as their price of remaining in Premier Menachem Begin’s coalition, was defeated in the Knesset last month when a number of coalition MKs refused to support it, resulting in a tied vote.

The coalition “rebels” had agreed, albeit reluctantly last night to the compromise finally worked out between them and the Aguda Knesset faction at the urging of coalition whips. “It’s not ideal but it’s good enough,” Likud MK Ehud Olmert told reporters after a protracted meeting. Shlomo Lorincz, the Aguda leader in the Knesset, claimed that the compromise in fact satisfied Aguda principles. But the leading Hasidic sages, the Gurrer Rebbe and Rabbi Eliezer Shach of Bnai Brak, thought otherwise.

The formula would have eliminated clause five of the abortion law which permits abortions for socio-economic reasons, meaning for mothers of poverty families with large numbers of children. However, it expanded clause four of the law to include some of the cases covered by clause five.

The new language was deliberately left vague and open to broad interpretations. Clause four permits abortions on grounds of “danger to the women’s life” or “severe physical or mental damage” resulting from continued pregnancy. The compromise added the words “or such (damage) as is caused by a difficult milieu or family circumstances that find no other solution.”

The Aguda sages informed the party’s Knesset faction last night that the terms “milieu and family circumstances” were unacceptable to them. This morning, Likud and Aguda MKs were still making desperate efforts to find alternative language that would appease the rebbes and would be acceptable to the Likud “rebels.” The measure in its original form is not likely to be adopted and Begin has refused to resubmit it to the Knesset unless he is assured in advance of full coalition support.

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