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Sexual Health, Reproduction and Family Formation: Rights, Religion and the State

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February 24, 2013

Choice USA Executive Director, Kierra Johnson, will be traveling this week in Israel with the National Council of Jewish WomenIsrael Action Networkand a group of progressive women leaders. While there she will be blogging about the experience for ChoiceWords.

From left: Racheli, IFPA; me; Nancy Northup,center for reproductive rights; Joanne Zack-Pakes, IFPA

This week would not be complete without some commentary about the state of sexual health, reproductive rights and family planning. Below is my quick and dirty report. I received a lot of information. This is not an exhaustive representation of the system but rather consider it a snapshot. Warning: Generally, I try not to compare the US to other places but I just could’t help it this time. I ask for your forgiveness in advance.

Abortion: Cons: It is the only medical practice that requires an application and hospital committee approval. Unmarried women over 19 and under 40 who get pregnant are not covered and must pay out of pocket. Pros: It is Legal. There is national health care and abortion is covered by insurances in other circumstances.  There is no gestational limit identified in the law. Parental notification nor consent is required for minors.

Adoption: Cons: Same sex couples cannot adopt a child from a third party.  Pros: A person in a same sex couple can adopt the children of their spouse.  An adoption abroad of a same sex partner’s child is recognized. Single people can adopt children.

Contraception: Cons: In 2008, Women and Technologies Project under the Isha L’Isha organization investigated claims that a deliberate policy was issued to prescribe Depo Provera contraceptive to women of the Ethiopian Community in Israel.

Pro: The group issued a white paper and makes seven recommendations. One of which reads “The regulations governing the prescribing of contraception in Israel should be revised, especially prescriptions in Ethiopian community and to institutionalized women. Matching a contraceptive method should be done according to personal, not collective considerations.

Pros: While it costs, it’s pretty inexpensive. On average 2 dollars a month. Side note: The most popular are condoms and the pill by single young people and the IUD by married women with children.

Fertility Treatments:  Cons: Gay men are not currently covered to access medical pathways to biological children. Pros: Treatments are covered by health insurance for heterosexual couples and single women.

Marriage: Cons: There is no separation between church and state. So there is no such thing as civil marriage only religious marriage. Because there is no civil marriage, there is also no civil divorce which often leaves lesbian and gay couples who were married abroad and women vulnerable. Pros: There is a “known in public” statute that allows couples including same sex couples to qualify for many of the benefits of married couples. Gay marriage from abroad is recognized.

LGBTQ non discrimination policy: Cons: Discrimination and harassment are a lived reality for many. People feel uncomfortable, fear getting kicked out of their homes, losing their jobs or physical harm, so the majority of people are not out in the workplace or family for that reason. Pros:  Non-discrimination protection exists in the law which is a great big step ahead of the US.

Medications, surgery and prescriptions: Cons: I was too busy celebrating the “pro” that I may have missed this discussion. Nothing to report. Pros: Transgender specific health needs are COVERED by national healthcare! YAAAY!

Sex Education: Cons: It is unclear how standardized sex education curriculum is within the public school systems. Pros: Sex education is instituted from K – 12 and covers issues and concepts appropriate per age group. Curriculum includes the following issues: anatomy, self esteem, body image, adolescent changes, communication in relationships, protection and health. There is a national training center to certify sex educators. Over 2000 professionals have been trained so far.

The Israel Family Planning Association has made it their mission to make the rights of intimacy, relationships, and healthy sexuality accessible to adolescents and adults. There programs are created with the intention of having geographically accessible services that center the needs of low income people, people with disabilities, immigrants and those of the Arab community. While there is still work to do to ensure that sexual health, reproductive rights and improving access to more ways to form families is prioritized and delivered within a human rights frame, I am impressed with the overall system.

Ruti Milgrom, Turning the Tables; Gili Varon, Task Force on Human Trafficking

In addition to theses issues, social justice advocates from Turning the Tables, Taskforce on Human Trafficking and Rape Crisis Centers like the one in Haifa are working on improving the services for and response to survivors of rape and the prevention of sexual violence.  These feminist leaders are working to ensure law and policies that pertain to sex work and sex trafficking are created in a way that do not double or triple victimize sex workers and those who have been trafficked.

So, that’s my two shekels! Overall, I was pleasantly surprised that in some instances the laws were more liberal than I expected. There were other times when I was surprised that even within a liberalized  law, the intention was not about empowerment but instead perpetuates gender stereotypes. Speaking with representatives from these organizations gave me a lot of food for thought. I think there is a lot we can learn from each other about how to create and apply new strategies and respond to challenges in an effort to better meet the needs of the most marginalized in our communities.

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