The demographic threat is, by common consensus, the greatest danger to Israel today. Everything from the Gaza withdrawal to hare-brained schemes to convert en masse hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish immigrants is justified in terms of that threat.
The demographic threat is both external -- 2 million Palestinians over whom we have no wish to rule -- and internal -- a rapidly growing and increasingly irredentist Israeli Arab population.
Arabs constitute 20% of the Israeli population. The Israeli Arab population is much younger than the Jewish population -- one-half of Israeli Arabs are under 18, only one-third of Jews are -- and has a birthrate twice that of the Jewish population. Demographically, the situation of Israel is even worse than that of Western Europe, which, at current rates of growth, will be majority Moslem by the end of the 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 as twice that figure.
That's close to 1,000 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 of shekels 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 feel that 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 them who were themselves helped by EFRAT, contacts the woman. The volunteer offers emotional support and tells the woman that if she delivers her baby, EFRAT will supply her with all the baby 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 presented to persuade her.
In many cases, the emotional support and minimal financial assistance (the entire package comes to little more than $1,000) is all that 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.
In order 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 this 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 whether to extract a tooth than whether to kill a fetus.
Even though the law requires doctors to inform patients of possible adverse consequences from any operative procedure, this is rarely done in the case of abortions. Women appearing before the committees required to approve hospital abortions are generally not told of either the possible adverse physical or psychological consequences of abortion, argues Professor Eliav Schochetman of the Hebrew University Law Faculty.
Today there are tens of thousands of childless couples in Israel eager to adopt a Jewish child. But few such children are available.
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 half way around the globe to obtain a child who may never be recognized as Jewish in Israel. The whole process usually costs at least $75,000, and often much more.
Why not instead establish a government committee to which pregnant women, who have decided that 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 or contact between the mother and the adoptive parents.
Reducing the number of abortions alone will not turn the demographic tide. Nor will all, or perhaps even most, women who currently undergo abortions be dissuaded by any combination of incentives or more information.
Nevertheless it is a national scandal that thousands more Jewish lives are not saved each year for a mere pittance.
Visit Efrat's website at http://www.efrat.org.il/ . It is only available in Hebrew.