American evangelicals open a new antiabortion front — in Israel

Miriam Genz, a counselor at the antiabortion Be'ad Chaim association in Jerusalem, prepares bags of aid to be given to pregnant women. [Corinna Kern for The Washington Post]

In a country with one of the world’s most liberal abortion policies, groups funded by conservative American evangelicals are targeting women with a message familiar in the United States but novel to most Israelis: Abortion is “murder.”

The idea resonated with Shir Palla Shitrit, 21, when she first contacted the “pregnancy crisis center” run by Be’ad Chaim — Hebrew for “pro-life.” In an office decorated with fetus diagrams, framed biblical passages and a ceramic sculpture of a breastfeeding mother, counselors offered her a year’s worth of material support and a place in a growing grass-roots community.

“They’re like my family,” said Palla Shitrit, next to a pile of donated diapers, winter baby clothes, and her monthly supermarket gift card, worth about $100.

“My life was very unstable. I didn’t have money, and I thought I would be the worst mother,” she said, whispering as her 10-month-old, Tohar, fell asleep in her arms. “Now I know that this is what gives life meaning.”

Shir Palla Shitrit, 21, who has been receiving support from Be'ad Chaim since deciding against an abortion. [Corinna Kern for The Washington Post]

Israel legalized abortion in 1977, four years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Israeli Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz further eased access to abortion this year, saying the overturning of Roe had set back women’s rights “by a hundred years.”

But “pregnancy crisis centers” backed by conservative American evangelicals are becoming more prominent here, aiming to change the conversation around abortion and lay the groundwork for a political movement. Be’ad Chaim, a multimillion-dollar operation that has rapidly expanded in recent years, supplies women with carefully selected, or entirely distorted, facts to make the case against abortion. Pamphlets in Hebrew, English, Russian and Arabic show babies being stabbed in the heart or radiated to death, writhing in pain.