'Use of abortion pill on the rise'

Gov't report doesn't relate to illegal abortions, which experts say are about as frequent as legal ones.

pregnant woman 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
pregnant woman 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Although 98 percent of the women who requested permission for a legal abortion were granted it, the abortion rates among females younger than 20 and over 35 are lower in Israel than in most European countries. However, a new Health Ministry report on legal abortion statistics, released for publication Tuesday, does not relate to illegal abortions, which experts estimate are about as frequent as legal ones. Legal abortions are performed in most of the public and private hospitals, and an increasing number are not surgical; rather, the young fetus is expelled from the uterus with the mifepristone "abortion pill" (known commercially as Mifegyne). Of the 19,544 legal abortions done in 2007, nearly 5,000 were carried out with the pill, which requires strict doctors' supervision and follow-up and is seen as causing fewer complications than a surgical abortion. The percentage of abortions via Mifegyne has doubled since 2000. The use of Mifegyne to abort was much more common at the two Hadassah University Medical Centers in Jerusalem (72%) than in Clalit Health Services hospitals (53%), government hospitals (50%) and private hospitals (30%). Although 20,919 requested permission for an abortion and 20,505 were approved, only 19,544 women actually aborted their fetuses. The approval rate of 98% has remained steady since 1995, when it was 93%; in 1990, it was only 89%. Public abortion committees have been operating in the hospitals since 1977, when the Abortion Law was passed. They are comprised of gynecologists, social workers, clergymen and others. Legal abortion is allowed in cases of illegal sexual relations according to the criminal law, such as incest or sex outside marriage; when continuing the pregnancy is liable to endanger the woman's life or cause her physical or psychological harm; when the fetus is liable to suffer from a physical or mental defect; and when the woman is under the legal age of marriage (17) or is 40 or older. More than half (55%) of the requests for an abortion were due to illicit sexual relations; 18% due to potential danger to the woman's physical or mental state; 18% due to defects in the fetus; and 9% due to the mother's being underage or overage. In 2007, there were 11.3 legal abortions per 1,000 women between the ages 15 and 49 (or 129 per 1,000 live births). This represents a decline from 150 per 1,000 live births in 1990, when there was a mass influx of immigrant women from the former Soviet Union who tended to use abortions as a form of birth control. Unlike the US, there has been little controversy over legal abortions in Israel due to the law, although some organizations try to persuade women to deliver the baby by offering them financial grants or to arrange adoption. In addition, birth control activists campaign to prevent pregnancies, and the "morning-after pill" is available at pharmacies to prevent an embryo from attaching itself and developing in the uterus. Fewer girls aged 15 to 19 are having babies, while more women over 40 are getting pregnant and delivering. There are now fewer requests for an abortion among women over 40 and more such applications in teenagers. The share of abortions performed until the seventh week of pregnancy rose from 48% in 2000 to 58% last year. Abortion rates between the eighth and 12th weeks declined from 43% to 32% in that period, while those from the 13th week and beyond remained stable at one-tenth. Between 2000 and 2007, just one percent of abortions were late stage, after the 23rd week; there were 245 such legal abortions in 2007. The rate of late-stage abortions - between the 24th and 26th week of pregnancy - was 51% in 2007, a decline from 64% in 2000. Most of the late-stage abortions were due to evidence that the fetus suffered from a physical or mental defect. Based on statistics culled from the World Heath Organization, Greece has the lowest abortion rate (86.5 per 1,000 live births) in women up to the age of 20 among 21 countries, with Israel five places under it, in sixth place and Sweden in 21st place, with a massive 4,165.2 abortions per 1,000 live births. Among women aged 35 and over, this time in 22 countries, Greece again had the lowest abortion rate (96.3), compared to Israel in seventh place (in 2006) with 185.4 and Russia 22nd with 5,209 per 1,000 births - meaning that more than five babies were aborted for each one that was born.