Low birth rates will pose an economic threat to Serbia in the years to come.
By Biljana Pekusic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 16/01/12
Abortion is considered a regular means of contraception in Serbia. [Reuters]
According to official data from the Belgrade Institute of Public Health, 23,000 abortions are performed in Serbia annually, but unofficial data suggests a number as high as 150,000.
In Belgrade alone, 8,000 abortions are performed each year. Most are performed in private clinics, which often do not have permission or report abortions. Out of 187 private gynaecological clinics in Serbia, only 47 have a permit.
"The process for obtaining a license for this intervention is strict and complicated, and many are not worth applying for, so they work illegally. There are clinics that have the necessary permits, yet do not report all abortions," Dr Boris Vranes of the Institute of Gynaecology and Obstetrics told SETimes.
"For many women in Serbia who already gave birth, abortion is considered a regular means of contraception; they do not apply prevention, but undergo an abortion," gynaecologist Jovanka Carevic told SETimes.
By law, abortion is permitted at the request of a woman until the 10th week of pregnancy, unless the pregnancy is detrimental to her health. When a woman is under the age of 16, or unable to work, she is required to have the written consent of a parent or guardian for an abortion. However, many women ignore the regulations.
"Women obtain fake medical documentation, for example, a note from a psychiatrist stating she is mentally unstable, in order to end a pregnancy that already entered the 15th week," Verica Purko, a gynaecological nurse at the Medical Centre in Zajecar says.
Most women are aware that abortion is not a harmless intervention and there are always risks of injury, infection, bleeding, and even permanent sterility.
"We frequently have patients who interrupt pregnancy two or three times. A common case is of women from rural areas that had an unskilled person perform the procedure, and then comes to the hospital in serious condition," Purko says.
In both private and public clinics, abortions cost 150 to 250 euros.
A large number of abortions are a potential economic threat to Serbia, because due to its aging population the country can expect a low number of work-age adults in the future.
In earlier decades, only young girls opted for abortions. Today, women between the ages of 25 and 34 are having them the most, followed by women between 35 and 44.
Gynaecologist Ilija Stojmenovski, an owner of a private clinic in Belgrade, told SETimes that among the women having abortions are those over 40 with no children.
"Many times I tried to convince the patient to keep the pregnancy, but each was under the conviction that for economic, social or emotional reasons, she cannot. Of the hundreds of abortions I performed, I failed to convince any of them to have a child," says Stojmenovski.
A difficult financial situation, housing problems, unemployment, divorce, a low level of general health education, along with insufficient activity by health, educational and other institutions in raising the awareness have all contributed to high abortion rates explains sociologist Dragutin Vasic.
"Mass abortions in Serbia have long been assumed at epidemic proportions," he told SETimes.
In Serbia, the birth rate is 1.44 children per woman, while the EU average is 1.6. To sustain natural population growth the birth rate should be 2.1 children per woman.