To save Jews from self-annihilation, try minimizing abortion

The demographic threat is, by common consensus, the greatest danger to Israel today. Everything from the Gaza withdrawal to hare-brained schemes to convert hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish immigrants en masse is justified in terms of that threat.

The demographic threat is both external — nearly 4 million Palestinians over whom Israelis have no wish to rule — and internal — a rapidly growing and increasingly estranged Israeli Arab population.

Arabs constitute 20 percent of the population. The Arab population is much younger than the Jewish population — half of Israeli Arabs are under 18, in contrast to one-third of the Jews — with a birthrate that is twice as high. Demographically, Israel’s situation is even worse than that of Western Europe, which, at current rates of growth, will have a Muslim majority by the end of the 21st century.

Despite the magnitude of the threat, the Israeli government has neglected the easiest and most obvious steps to increase the Jewish population. Each year an estimated 50,000 or more potential Jewish lives are aborted. Twenty thousand abortions are approved by hospital committees, and some experts place the number of illegal abortions at twice that figure.

That’s close to 1,000 potential Jewish lives terminated a week. Compare the number of Israelis killed on the roads — approximately nine a week in 2003 — or by terrorists — four per week. We rightly spend billions to lower the toll from traffic accidents and terrorism. But not one dollar is expended to encourage women to carry their babies to term.

Many women who opt to have abortions are deeply ambivalent about their decision, but they feel they simply cannot handle the burden of another mouth to feed. Often, minimal financial assistance is all it takes to change their minds.

Efrat, an organization that works with women contemplating abortion, proves the point. As soon as Efrat learns of such a woman, one of its nearly 3,000 volunteers, many of whom had been helped by Efrat, contacts her. The volunteer offers emotional support and tells the woman that if she delivers her baby, Efrat will supply her with all the infant equipment and necessities and will give a check to her local grocery for six months prior to birth and six months thereafter. No theological or ideological arguments are used to persuade her not to have an abortion.

In many cases, the emotional support and minimal financial assistance (the entire package comes to little more than $1,000) is all it takes to convince a woman not to abort. Of the 1,000 women currently being assisted by Efrat, approximately three-quarters are married.

Dr. Eli Schussheim, director of the organization, claims that not one of the 16,000 women helped over the years by Efrat has ever expressed regret that she brought her child into the world.

For a woman to make a truly informed judgment about whether to abort, she must know that organizations such as Efrat exist. Social workers and hospital abortion committees, however, rarely provide that information. They should be legally required to do so.

Indeed, informed consent is largely absent from the entire abortion process. Approval by hospital abortion committees is typically pro forma. More deliberation often goes into the decision of whether to extract a tooth than whether to kill a fetus.

The law requires doctors to inform patients of possible adverse consequences from any operative procedure. But in the case of abortions, this is rarely done. What’s more, women appearing before the committees required to approve hospital abortions are generally not told about the possible adverse physical or psychological consequences, argues Professor Eliav Schochetman of the Hebrew University law faculty. He urges that they be provided with a written list of those potential outcomes.

The state of Israel could also reduce the number of abortions by encouraging adoption. Today there are tens of thousands of childless couples in Israel eager to adopt a Jewish child. But few such children are available. As a consequence, those couples either remain childless or travel halfway around the globe to obtain a child, who may never be recognized as Jewish in Israel. The whole process costs at least $75,000, and often much more.

Why not instead establish a government committee to which pregnant women who have decided they cannot raise their child could apply for a subsidy during pregnancy? That subsidy would cover medical expenses, lost work, pain and suffering, and the like. Those payments would come from a fund paid for by couples eager to adopt a child. There would be no monetary transaction between the mother and the adoptive parents.

Reducing the number of abortions alone will not turn the demographic tide. Nor will all women who want to undergo abortions be dissuaded by any combination of incentives or more information. Nevertheless, it is a national tragedy that thousands of Jewish lives that could be saved for a mere pittance are lost every year.

Jonathan Rosenblum is a writer for The Jerusalem Post, where this column previously appeared.