Although 99 percent of applications to public abortion committees are approved and the population has grown considerably in the last two decades, the number and rate of legal abortions steadily declined, to 19,594 in 2008. This constitutes an 18% drop since 1990 and a 10% fall since 2000, according to the Health Ministry's report on legal abortions between 1990 and 2008, released for publication on Monday morning. The highest recorded number of legal abortions was 20,378 in 2004. Although the report, issued by the ministry's information department head Ziona Haklai, does not explain the reasons for this trend, it would seem that today's much smaller number of female Russian immigrants of fertile age - who used abortions as birth control in their native country - women's higher levels of education and greater access to and information about birth control and "morning-after" pills are some of the influencing factors. The near-universal approval of abortions by hospital committees, based on any of four criteria, also significantly reduces the number of illegal abortions, which can be very dangerous for the pregnant woman. The four criteria are: â€¢ Being older than 40 or younger than 17. â€¢ The fetus was conceived out of wedlock or from illegal sexual relations. â€¢ Continuing the pregnancy is liable to endanger the life of the woman or cause her physical or emotional harm. â€¢ The fetus is liable to have a physical or mental defect. The rate of legal abortions in Israel is low compared to those in many Western European countries, both among women and girls up to the age of 20 and among women over 35, the report notes. The legal abortion rates per 1,000 live births are 154 in Spain, 180 in Iceland, 184.7 in Israel, 307 in France, 794 in Hungary, 1,629 in Bulgaria and 5,209 in Russia. Although there are organizations such as Efrat that discourage abortion and provide assistance to women who are considering an abortion, the process for getting a legal abortion in Israel since 1977 has not involved wild demonstrations and violence, as has been the case in the US. In 2008, 20,782 women applied for an abortion, while 19,594 were actually performed. Fifty-four percent of legal abortions were allowed under the criterion of the fetus being produced out of wedlock or from illegal sexual relations; 18% because the mother could have been harmed by the pregnancy; 17% because the fetus was defective; and 10% because the mother was too old or too young. In 2008, there were 11.2 legal abortions per 1,000 women of fertile age. The rate of approval was twice as high among women aged 18 to 39 than among girls aged 15 to 17 and women over 40. Abortion levels among Arab women, which are half those of Jewish women, remain steady. The higher the woman's educational level (over 13 years of study), the lower the abortion rate. The abortion rate among immigrants is considerably higher than among native-born Israelis. The rate among Russian immigrant women who arrived since 1990 has been declining since 2004. The rate among women born in Ethiopia who came here from 1980 is steady, the report said. Legal abortions are now being performed earlier in the pregnancy than before. In 2000, 48% of the abortions were performed by the seventh week; that increased to 58% in 2008. Abortion between the eighth and 12th week has dropped from 43% in 2000 to 32% in 2008, and the rate is now stable. Just 10% of abortions are performed after the 13th week. A total of 208 abortions were performed after the 23rd week in 2008, which are considered late abortions. The number of those taking Mifegyne (the abortion pill, known generically as mifepristone) for ending the pregnancy has increased to nearly 5,000 in 2008; the rate was half that in 2000. The abortion pill is considered much safer than using a surgical intervention to abort the fetus, but nevertheless it must be done in a medical setting with a doctor's supervision. In 2008, 44% of abortions of fetuses younger than seven weeks were done with Mifegyne. Private hospitals - where 42% of legal abortions are performed - tend to use surgical intervention rather than Mifegyne.