Previously, the Israeli government would help pay for women of all ages to have abortions in medical emergencies or in cases of sexual abuse, and women under the age of 20 and over the age of 40 could receive abortion funding for personal reasons.
The new legislation, approved by the Israeli cabinet Jan. 5, means abortion funding now will be available for more than 6,000 additional women.
"We want large families in Israel. We definitely encourage birth," Jonathan Halevy, head of the committee that drafted the legislation, said, according to The Times of Israel. "But when pregnancy occurs and it is undesired or inadvertent, I think we should supply the means to end the pregnancy properly."
The nation of Israel, formed in 1948 after the Nazi atrocities against the dignity of life in the Holocaust, is unique as a democracy in the Middle East and is the world's only Jewish-majority state with strong biblical ties.
Sandy Shoshani of Be'ad Chaim, a pro-life organization in Israel, told Baptist Press that, as in other times in Israel's history, God may be allowing the nation's depravity to be evident.
"I believe that God has in a sense given us over, and He's not done with us, but He's bringing us to a place where He's saying, 'Look at yourself. Take a good look and come to Me,'" Shoshani said, referring to Romans 1.
She mentioned that "our moral system has gone so low," with Israel recently granting to homosexual couples some benefits that previously had been reserved for biblical marriage.
Barrett Duke, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Commission's vice president for public policy and research, called it a sad day for women and children in Israel.
"Abortion kills a human being created in God's image, does irreparable harm to women and coarsens a culture's attitude toward life in general," Duke told Baptist Press.
"The expansion of abortion law in Israel reminds us just how slick and steep the slope is once a people decide that the unborn have no inherent right to life. We must pray that the people of the Book will find their way back to God's view of every human life and work to protect the most vulnerable among them," Duke said.
C. Ben Mitchell, professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., called the abortion expansion "a tragedy in every way."
"First, of course, for the unborn children and their mothers," Mitchell told Baptist Press. "But it's also very sad for the entire nation. Israel has been wracked by bloodshed for centuries. It seems almost unimaginable that the state would now fund violence in the womb. We must add this to our prayer for the peace of Jerusalem."
Jim Sibley, adjunct professor of Jewish studies at Criswell College and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said Israel, of all people, "should hold life in high esteem because of their biblical heritage."
"This direction that the country is now taking reflects their need for the Messiah and for the prayers of believers around the world," Sibley told BP.
The pastor of Jerusalem Baptist Church, Al Nucciarone, said the church must continue to support "those in this troubled position of an unwanted pregnancy rather than point them to abortion," and the church must support crisis pregnancy ministries.
Of utmost importance, Nucciarone said, is the church sharing the Gospel because it can change lives. The church should be praying, Nucciarone said, "for those who are seeking to terminate the life of their unborn child that they would reconsider and be able to deliver a healthy baby."
Marvin Kramer, a Messianic attorney and general manager of the pro-life organization A Future and A Hope in Haifa, Israel, lamented, "We continue to offer our children to Molech for the sake of sins and conveniences. How can we ask God to bless this land when we are killing our own children?"
By including abortion in the group of medical procedures covered by the government, "the implication is that pregnancy is equivalent to a disease that needs to be treated and eventually eliminated, rather than new life that needs to be protected and nourished," Kramer wrote in the organization's Jan. 6 newsletter. "This is a fundamental error in thinking. Given the advancement in medical technology, particularly in ultrasound imaging, it cannot be argued that 'What we cannot see does not exist.'"
Some health committee members, Kramer added, wanted to accord women secrecy in funding and receiving abortion because "they do not want their husbands to know," as he put it. "It would seem obvious that ... will serve as an encouragement to have extra-marital affairs, without the knowledge of the spouse," he wrote in citing various concerns beyond the killing of the unborn.
Halevy, the committee's leader, also announced an intention of ultimately raising the age to 40, meaning any woman of any age could get a state-funded abortion in Israel for any reason.
The committee opted not to fund birth control, though, because of a lack of funds.
"The private expense for birth control pills is low," Halevy said, "but when we're talking about financing for the entire population, that's a hefty sum."
Shoshani of Be'ad Chaim said increased abortions mean increased funding for hospitals in Israel. But Israeli hospitals also actively seek private-sector donations and could respond to generous Christians around the world who would contribute funds only on the grounds that the hospitals stop performing abortions.
"If you want to stand with Israel, then pray that we would stop our abortions. Write to our minister of health, write to our hospital directors," Shoshani said. "I think that's the way to go because the government doesn't care at all, but the hospitals are getting money from Christians. They could be pushed.
"If you guys are giving a lot of money to a certain hospital and you say, 'Would you stop? We'll give you extra money?' Money talks. Prayer, letters, whatever you can think of to stop abortion," Shoshani said. "If you really love Israel, you want to stop abortion here, not support it."
Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. With reporting by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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