Legal abortion rate continues to decline

Health Ministry accepts ‘Post’ suggestion to study why rate in Israel has dropped after years of stability.

December 12, 2011 06:23
2 minute read.
Pregnant women

Pregnant women [illustrative]_311. (photo credit: Reuters)


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The rate of legal abortions in Israel – among the lowest when compared to the countries of Western Europe for both women under 20 and women over 35 – has declined since 2000 after being steady from 1995 until then.

This emerges from the abortion report issued by the Health Ministry for publication on Monday. The report does not explain the reasons for these trends.

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But when The Jerusalem Post suggested that it could be a result of the decline in aliya and the aging of women who arrived from the former Soviet Union – where abortions were widely used instead of contraception – and the improved access to birth control among these immigrants – ministry official Dr. Yoram Lotan said it “sounded very logical.”

Asked whether the ministry would study the reasons for the trend instead of just releasing annual figures, Lotan – of the ministry’s medical administration – said he would recommend such a study.

“We didn’t conduct epidemiological studies. It may be the reason. It would take looking at hundreds or even thousands of medical files to each conclusions. It has to be done seriously, based on comparative data,” Lotan said. “I agree that it should be done.”

In 2010, 11.1 abortions were performed per 1,000 women of fertile age. In that year, there were 21,363 applications to abortion committees in the public and private hospitals, and 19,531 were performed; some of those that were not performed were due to women’s changing their mind or because they were not approved by the committees, which are made up of physicians, social workers, medical ethicists and clergy.

Fully 53 percent of abortions were carried out on the basis that the pregnancies resulted from “forbidden relations according to the criminal law,” that the parents were not married to each other or there were sexual relations between close relatives.

Only 18% of the abortions were based on the section of the law allowing termination of the fetus because it endangered the health of the mother or would cause her physical or mental harm; 18% because the fetus was physically or mentally defective; and 10% because the mother was younger than 17 or older than 40.

Women with higher education were less likely to request an abortion than those with low socioeconomic status.

New-immigrant women were more likely to ask for and undergo an abortion than veteran immigrants or nativeborn Israelis. While rates were lower since 2004 among immigrants from the former Soviet Union (from 1990), they were steady among those from Ethiopia (who came since 1980).

Sixty percent of terminations were of fetuses less than seven weeks old, compared to 48% in 2000. The rate of abortions of fetuses eight to 12 weeks after conception declined from 43% in 2000 to 28% in 2010. This indicates earlier access to abortion committees in the hospitals. In the past decade, just 1% of abortions were performed late, after the 23rd week.

Last year, 5,110 abortions were performed using the abortion pill Mifegyne, twice the rate a decade ago. The use of the pill under a doctor’s supervision is considerably safer than surgical abortion.

Fully 44% of abortions up to the seventh week were performed using the pill, compared to only 24% a decade ago.

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