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Pregnant women in America and Israel face starkly different choices

Compared to every other wealthy country in the world, America is staunchly anti-family and anti-mom.

As America grapples with the grim possibility of a future without Roe v. Wade, it is far past time for us to examine the dreadful state of American motherhood.

COVID-19 has greatly exacerbated existing inequities and disparities both at home and in the workplace, demonstrating repeatedly that American moms don’t have enough support. Nearly 2 million women who quit their jobs or were forced to leave during the pandemic have not returned to work.

According to U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, ending access to abortion will make these problems much worse, setting women back decades and sending more women and children into poverty.

For a movement that is supposedly pro-life, the policies in this country put in place by conservative activists are profoundly anti-family. There is a reason that 60% of abortion patients in the U.S. are already mothers: America is the worst place in the Western world to be a mother. If Roe falls, millions of American women will have this broken system forced upon them.

Don’t believe me? Just take a look at our Israeli counterparts. Israel is no feminist paradise, but they at least provide new parents with what should be the bare minimum.

Let’s compare and contrast two fictional pregnant women, Noa in Israel and Sarah in America. 

Once she gives birth in Israel, Noa will have 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, and can choose to take an additional 28 weeks unpaid. In America, whether or not Sarah has paid leave is likely up to her employer.

America is the only wealthy country in the world with zero federal paid leave. We do give new parents up to 12 weeks of unpaid Family and Medical Leave, but even that paltry accommodation has restrictions.

Companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from the requirement (and no employee qualifies if they have been at their job less than 12 months). Given that half of Americans work for a small business, a stunning proportion are entitled to no leave at all. If Sarah has worked for a small business for the past 11 months, while Noa is enjoying her paid maternity leave, Sarah may risk losing her job if she misses any work.

While sleep-deprived Sarah is trying to figure out how to keep the lights on without a paycheck, or rushing back to work before she has even stopped bleeding from labor, she will get a nasty surprise: the hospital bill. Assuming she has health insurance, had no major complications and didn’t need a cesarean section, Sarah will owe an average of $10,000.

Given that 40% of Americans can’t afford to cover even a $400 dollar emergency, never mind months without a paycheck, pregnancy and childbirth could easily push Sarah’s family into poverty. 16% of American children grow up in poverty already —  over 11 million kids. 

Sarah, our Jewish American woman, is thousands of dollars in medical debt and without a paycheck. Noa, her Israeli counterpart, is snuggling with her baby, enjoying her paid leave and having her hospital bills covered by the National Insurance Institute

Never fear, Sarah in America, whose debt is growing faster than the pile of dirty diapers in the diaper genie — soon you’ll be back at work! Surely, a paycheck will help! Except now we reach the crisis of American child care. You get hit with the double whammy of months without pay, medical debt and sky-high child care costs when you return to work.

American families face skyrocketing child care costs and shortages. Child care costs have risen 41% during the pandemic, with some families spending 20% of their salaries on child care. In Washington, D.C., where I live, annual fees for infant care add up to about $24,000 a year.  In Israel, childcare is heavily subsidized if a mother works at least 24 hours a week. Day care costs per month are dependent on the mother’s salary and hours.

Our Sarah is industrious and hardworking. Even if she risks losing her job, surely she will eventually get out of debt and it will all even out, right? Sorry, Sarah, but your bundle of joy has caused you to be hit with the dreaded “Motherhood Penalty”: you’ll be out an average of $16,000 a year due to lost wages. Sarah’s employers and co-workers are likely to see her as less committed to her work, and she is more likely to be put on the disastrous “Mommy Track” with no promotions, raises or opportunities in sight.

Noa faces similar perils when she returns to work — Israel has one of the highest gender pay gaps in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. But while both Sarah and Noa will face discrimination as working moms, Noa likely won’t start out with a pile of debt.

What if Sarah and Noa had decided to abort? If Noa chooses to have an abortion, while there are obstacles, she will find it widely available and often at no cost to her. Israel’s 1977 abortion law requires her to go before a review board of two physicians and a social worker, one of whom must be a woman. While activists have called for reform and decried the process as invasive and humiliating, 98% of cases are approved and little to no cost is passed on to the patient.

Without Roe v. Wade, Sarah’s access to abortion will depend on where she lives and how her state government decides to regulate abortion. She may have to travel hundreds of miles. She could face prosecution. She may be forced to carry the baby to term. The truth is, without Roe, we don’t know exactly what happens to Sarah in America. If she is a single mom, she is likely to end up in poverty.

Banning abortion in a country that offers new or potential mothers no support is immoral and unethical. A better way for families is not an impossible dream — it’s what your Israeli cousins and colleagues live with everyday. Compared to Israeli policy, and the policy of every other wealthy country in the world, American policy is staunchly anti-family and anti-mom. If America is going to continue to enact anti-family and anti-mom policies, we should at bare minimum continue to offer the right to choose whether or not to be a mother.

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