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The Israeli abortion committees' process of decision making: an ethical analysis
  1. Nitzan Rimon-Zarfaty1,
  2. Alan Jotkowitz2
  1. 1Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel
  2. 2Department of Medicine, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Soroka University Medical Center, Beer-Sheva, Israel
  1. Correspondence to Nitzan Rimon-Zarfaty, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva 84105, Israel; rimonn{at}


The Israeli law of abortions (1977) legally authorises hospital committees to decide upon women's requests for selective abortion. One of the law's clauses determines that abortions can be approved in cases of an embryopathy. However, the law does not provide any clear definitions of those fetal ‘physical or mental defects’ in terms of severity and/or likelihood, which remain open to interpretation by the committee members. This paper aimed to determine which ethical methodologies are used by committee members and advisors as they face the dilemma of abortion approval due to mild to moderate possible embryopathy. Twenty interviews demonstrated that they use mainly a combination of deontology and a contextual–relational model. Their ethical considerations are both contextual such as the family's/woman's relational network and are influenced by the ethical principles of autonomy and in cases of late abortions the value of life. The findings reveal a paradoxical picture: on the one hand, committee members hold liberal perceptions and in practice abortion requests are very seldom rejected. On the other hand, the Israeli abortion law and practice of abortion committees is still problematical from liberal and feminist rights perspectives. This paradox is discussed further by reflecting upon the relevant theory as well as the Israeli context. The paper concludes by suggesting that within the specific Israeli sociopolitical climate the requirement for committee approval of what should be a private decision might be necessary in order to placate religious or other opposition to abortion.

  • Abortion committees
  • abortion counselling
  • autonomy
  • contextual–relational model
  • deontology
  • embryos and fetuses
  • ethics committees/consultation
  • genetic counselling/prenatal diagnosis
  • interests of woman/fetus/father
  • mild–moderate/likely embryopathies

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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