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Scenes : On the Front Lines: Vignettes From Four Nations

In every abortion, of course, there is a baby that, for whatever reason, will go unborn. The word (from the Latin aboriri : to miscarry) covers both the furtive operation carried out in a dirty cellar in the heart of teeming Cairo and what a poor, illiterate Latin American peasant woman pathetically prays will happen when she quaffs a dose of herbal tea.

Here are Times reports from several nations:

Israel

Israeli law makes legal abortion a committee’s business. Under the Jewish state’s criminal code, there are four categories under which a woman may have a legal abortion. However, a three-member hospital committee must interview her and authorize the operation first.

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There are a total of 29 committees in hospitals across the country, according to Joanne Zack-Pakes, director of Shilo, a private, nonprofit abortion counseling center in Jerusalem. Only two sit in Jerusalem, where few hospitals are willing to perform abortions because of religious opposition, she said.

A committee may meet as infrequently as once a week. A woman seeking an abortion meets with the committee, or with the social worker on the committee, for as little as 10 minutes. The committee gives the applicant a booklet outlining the psychological and emotional risks of having an abortion and ensures that her case falls within the law.

The committee is made up of at least one gynecologist, the social worker and another physician. One member must be a woman. If they rule that a woman is not eligible for an abortion, she may apply to another committee. There is no limit on appeals, but abortions generally are not performed after the 22nd week of pregnancy.

The committee may authorize an abortion: if the woman requesting termination of a pregnancy is under age 17, or over 40; if the pregnancy is the result of an “unpermitted relationship,” meaning, in effect, if the woman is the victim of rape or incest or is unmarried; if the fetus has a physical defect, or if continuation of the pregnancy would threaten the woman’s life or cause her physical or psychological harm.

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Normally, committees broadly interpret this last clause, citing it as grounds for most abortions, Israeli women’s advocacy groups say.

Zack-Pakes objects to the bureaucratization of what she believes is a deeply personal matter. “I don’t think that a woman should have to justify to a committee her reasons for having an abortion,” she said.


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