JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – This Friday, Israeli pro-life leaders will host the first-ever “National Prayer For Life” event in central Israel.
Larger than previous events, the leaders of the movement are calling on pastors, ministry leaders and Evangelical and Messianic Jewish believers of all kinds to come together to pray for the Lord to supernaturally intervene to defend the lives of innocent unborn children and dramatically transform Israeli culture from one that largely accepts – even encourages – abortions to one that embraces biblical values, cherishing unborn babies and nurturing a culture of life.
They note that it was King David himself – the most famous and beloved monarch in the history of ancient Israel – who wrote Psalm 139, affirming the sanctity of innocent human life as “knit together” by God in a mother’s womb.
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place; when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Psalm 139:13-17)
Lord willing, I’ll be at the prayer event on Friday.
If you live in Israel, I urge you to join us. You can get all the details, register for the event and get your free copy of a 10-day pro-life prayer guide, by writing to email@example.com.
If you live outside of Israel, I still encourage you to write and request a copy of the prayer guide so you can join us in interceding for the innocent Israeli unborn children.
HOW WIDESPREAD IS ABORTION IN ISRAEL?
The scourge of abortion here in the Jewish state is far worse than most Evangelical Christians around the world can probably imagine.
Some Israelis believe the total number of abortions performed since 1948 – legal and illegal – is close to 800,000.
Others believe the number tops 2 million.
It’s horrific either way, especially when you consider that the entire population of Israel today is only 10 million.
But let’s look more carefully at the numbers to better understand what’s really going on.
ABORTIONS BECAME LEGAL IN ISRAEL IN 1977
But “terminating a pregnancy” was legalized here in 1977.
“Over the strenuous, sometimes impassioned objections of religious Jews, the Israeli Parliament today passed a law that legalized abortions but fell short of providing abortion on demand,” reported the New York Times on Jan. 31, 1977.
Women then – and now – have to request permission to get an abortion and give their reason for wanting one.
“The law permits termination of a pregnancy after approval by a three-member committee consisting of two doctors – one a gynecologist– and a social worker,” noted the NYT.
The Times added that “some of the reasons for which a legal abortion could be obtained are: If a mother is under 16 or over 40; if the pregnancy resulted from incest, rape or was out of wedlock; if it can be determined the child would be born physically or mentally handicapped, or if the birth would injure the physical or emotional health of the mother.”
The vast majority of requests are approved.
Various Israeli laws expanding access to abortion – and making them free or very low cost – have been passed over the years.
WHAT DO THE OFFICIAL NUMBERS TELL US?
According to the most recent statistics from official sources, the number of legal abortions performed each year in Israel ranges from 16,000 to 20,000.
A closer look at the data shows that between 1977 and 2021 there have been at least 778,454 legal abortions.
However, given the way the 1977 law was written, many Israeli women began seeking illegal abortions.
This doesn’t mean “back alley” or “do-it-yourself” procedures.
It means women privately paid doctors to perform abortions because they either didn’t want to appear before one of these committees or because their reasons for wanting an abortion were not legally valid.
For example, the law originally allowed women to get abortions if they successfully argued they could not afford to raise the children.
“However, two years after the enactment of the original bill, the fifth [reason] for abortion – known as ‘the socioeconomic clause’ – was repealed by the legislature and abortion approvals were ultimately restricted to only four permissible grounds,” noted a study of the historic legality of abortion in Israel published by the University of Haifa this year.
Today, official government data show that the main reason women cite for termination is ‘pregnancy out of wedlock,’” the study found, noting that this is the primary reason that younger, single Israeli women give, as they use abortion as a form of birth control.
However, the study also pointed to a steadily-rising trend in which married women in Israel are aborting their babies.
Sometimes this is because the pregnancy is the result of an adulterous relationship, or because the baby is discovered to have had some type of physical defect.
But the study found that many married women have been aborting their babies because they don’t think they can afford to keep these babies. Yet, they are lying to the committees and giving other reasons because “socioeconomic” factors are not legal grounds for terminating a pregnancy.
“According to the Ministry of Health’s statistics, nearly half (48%) of the abortion approvals were granted to married women in 2019,” the report stated.
But, again, many more Israeli women don’t want to have this conversation with these “termination committees” and thus choose to have their abortions illegally.
WHAT DO THE UNOFFICIAL NUMBERS TELL US?
Sadly, even in the earliest years of the Jewish state, illegal abortions were widely performed in Israel.
In a 1958 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers S. Halevi and A. Brzezinski, M.D., noted that “the purpose of the present paper is to calculate and to indicate, as far as possible, the incidence of abortions among Jewish women in Israel.”
They concluded that despite the fact that abortions were against the law at the time, “abortions are prominent as a cause of hospitalization in Israel.”
In fact, the researchers stated that “one out of every four women hospitalized women in the reproductive ages was admitted with the diagnosis of abortion.”
That’s a staggering and tragic figure – fully 25% of Israeli women in the 1950s were being hospitalized to get elective abortions, despite the fact that they were illegal.
Carefully analyzing statistics compiled by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) – and hospital records that used euphemistic language to mask the illegality of elective abortions – the researchers estimated that in 1952 alone there were 1,398 illegal abortions performed for Jewish women in Israeli hospitals.
In 1953, they estimated there were another 1,576 illegal abortions performed in Israeli hospitals.
If one takes an average of those two estimates and multiply that number by the 29 years spanning from Israel’s independence in 1948 and the legalization of abortion in 1977, it might be reasonable to believe that there were at least 43,123 illegal abortions performed for Jewish women in Israel during those three decades.
If so, that would bring the number of abortions in Israel since 1948 up to at least 821,577.
However, the 1958 study specifically made a point of stating that “there can be no doubt that a proportion of induced abortions are [conducted] at home or outside of recognized medical institutions, and therefore remain unreported.”
Regarding such “non-hospitalized abortions of all kinds,” the researchers stated their belief that the number “undoubtedly amounts at least to several thousand per year.”
If their educated guess was reasonable, that would mean there were an additional 2,000 illegal abortions outside of Israeli hospitals for each of the 29 years between 1948 and 1977.
This would suggest that another 58,000 babies had been killed in the womb over the first three decades of the Jewish state.
That would bring the total number of abortions performed in Israel since 1948 up to 879,577.'
Yet, even after abortion was legalized in 1977, panels did not approve all abortion requests.
Thus, many illegal abortions were performed for women who were turned down by their panel of doctors and chose to go to private clinics, paying for their own abortions, “under the table,” as it were.
ARE ILLEGAL ABORTIONS ACTUALLY HIGHER THAN PREVIOUSLY THOUGHT?
A 1990 study published by the Israel Journal of Medical Sciences – and excerpted in English by the National Library of Medicine – examined the number of illegal abortions performed in Israel from 1980 to 1983 and discovered that the number of illegal abortions was significantly higher than other researchers had found.
“It would appear that about 6,000 illegal abortions [every] year are performed in Israel,” the researchers noted.
That estimate is three times higher than the 1958 study.
We must consider, then, the possibility that in the years following the 1958 study, an additional 4,000 illegal abortions were performed in Israel every year above and beyond what we had previously estimated.
This trend may have spanned the period from 1960 through about 2020.
More recently, it is believed that illegal abortions have tapered off as Israeli abortion laws have become more permissive and the abortion panels are now approving upwards of 99% of all requests, according to the most recent evidence.
Over the course of these 60 years, then, this evidence suggests there could have been an additional 240,000 illegal abortions above and beyond the previous estimates.
This would mean that over the past 75 years, the total number of abortions – legal and illegal – performed in Israel could total 1,119,577.
PRO-LIFE LEADERS IN ISRAEL SAY THE NUMBER OF ABORTIONS IS VASTLY HIGHER
However, some pro-life leaders in Israel believe that even this figure still woefully underestimates the number of abortions performed in the Jewish state.
They argue the number of abortions performed annually is actually 30,000 to 50,000 – not 16,000 to 20,000, as tabulated by official statistics.
And they cite various sources, dating back to the Jan. 31, 1977 article in the New York Times referenced above.
“The estimates of the number of abortions in Israel,” the Times reported in 1977, “range from 40,000 a year, a figure used by the government, to 70,000, a figure used by a number of feminist organizations,” adding that “since 1952, there have been no prosecutions of doctors who performed illegal abortions.”
In 2017, the Times of Israel reported that an estimated 15,000 illegal abortions were performed annually in Israel, above and beyond the 20,000 or so legal abortions done each year, suggesting an annual total of 35,000 abortions.
In 2019, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that “Israeli abortion law has something for everyone: A semblance of regulation for conservatives, but a reality in which almost any woman who wants an abortion is able to have one — and an estimated 40,000 Israeli women annually have them.”
What’s more, Haaretz reported that “for teenagers and soldiers serving in the Israeli Defense Forces, abortions are fully funded by the state. And in a revision of the national health coverage law in 2014, abortions became free to all women between 20 and 33 regardless of their circumstances, in order to help young women who cannot afford to pay even a heavily subsidized fee for the procedure.”
Many Israeli women, Haaretz confirmed, “opt for private abortions, thus avoiding the committee process,” adding that “if a woman has several hundred dollars, obtaining a private abortion in a doctor’s clinic rather than a public hospital is the more efficient route. Though technically such physicians are breaking the law, the practice is common and widespread, allowing any woman — regardless of her marital status, age or personal situation — to obtain an abortion discreetly and far more quickly than the official process. No doctor has ever been prosecuted for doing so.”
During the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, and after the United States Supreme Court legalized all abortions in 1973 in the infamous Roe v. Wade decision, many women all over the world – including in Israel – became far more interested in using abortion as a form of birth control, whether it was legal in their countries or not.
In addition, Israeli pro-life advocates note that new drugs have become available in recent years to induce an abortion without a woman having to go to a public or private hospital, or even to a private clinic.
Such factors have led some to believe the total number of abortions in Israel may approach – or even top – two million.
“On a national level there is a mindfulness of the need to rebuild the Jewish people after the loss of six million during the Holocaust,” argues Sandy Shoshani, director of the Be’ad Chaim pro-life ministry based in Jerusalem. Yet she argues that “abortion is the antithesis of this equation, for while the lives of 1.5 million Jewish children were lost in the Holocaust, at least 2 million have been lost to abortion since 1948.”
“One For Israel,” a Messianic Jewish ministry based in Netanya, also argues that upwards of two million unborn babies have been aborted since the founding of the Jewish state.
“Although 40% of the Israelis questioned believe abortion to be wrong, there are up to a staggering 40,000 abortions every year in a population of only 9 million people,” noted an article posted on the ministry’s website several years ago. “That’s close to two million babies who have been killed in their mother’s wombs since the nation’s formation in 1948.”
A TERRIBLE ISRAELI TRAGEDY
Ultimately, only the God of Israel Himself knows how many innocent unborn babies have been murdered within the wombs of the women in the land of Israel.
A single abortion is horrible.
But 800,000 is a terrible Israeli tragedy.
And two million is even worse.
The blood of these children cries out for justice, and the Bible is clear that one day the Lord will sovereignly administer such justice.
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
Justice requires that we vigorously defend the rights of all unborn children.
Each child has a God-given right to life.
The government’s job is to protect their rights, whether this is popular or not.
IT IS TIME TO URGENTLY STRENGTHEN AND EXPAND ISRAEL’S PRO-LIFE MOVEMENT
At the same time, the Lord urges us to love mercy and walk humbly with Him.
That’s why we need to show kindness and compassion to women who have had abortions.
In their hearts, they know what they have done is wrong.
Many are suffering terribly – but often silently – with the guilt and shame of taking the lives of their own babies.
They have no idea where to turn for forgiveness, much less healing.
This is where followers of Jesus – Yeshua, in Hebrew – need to show God’s love to suffering women.
We need to help them understand that Jesus really is the Jewish Messiah.
He really did come to demonstrate to us God’s unconditional love and His limitless compassion.
He really did come to bring forgiveness for every sin we have ever committed – past, present and future – and to provide supernatural healing and redemption and eternal life for all who will admit their sins and receive the free gift of life that Jesus came to offer.
At the same time, we need to provide hope – and help – for women who are thinking of having an abortion today.
That’s why I’m so grateful for the pro-life movement in Israel.
Every day, they offer counseling and care and comfort and practical assistance to such women, urging them to have their babies rather than abort them, and then helping them by providing diapers and food, and other assistance during their babies’ first year.
This is good and right and pleasing to the Lord.
But much more is needed.
It is time to urgently strengthen and expand Israel’s pro-life movement.
We need many more people to pray.
We need more volunteers to work at crisis pregnancy centers.
More financial resources to help run and expand such ministries.
More teaching from the pulpits of Israel’s churches and Messianic congregations to help educate and mobilize believers to do their part in defending and cherishing life.
I’m deeply grateful that the ministry that Lynn and I founded in 2006 – The Joshua Fund – actively invests in Israel’s pro-life ministries.
What’s more, I’m grateful for the “National Prayer For Life” event this Friday.
My hope is that many Evangelical and Messianic Jewish leaders and lay people will attend this important event.
I’ll be there – I hope you will be, too.
There is a wonderful “tribe” of believers who care about unborn babies in Israel.
But my prayer is that this tribe will increase exponentially, in keeping with the heart of Jesus who said: “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.