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BELGRADE, January 20, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – According to the Belgrade Institute of Public Health, 23,000 abortions are committed in Serbia annually. However, a report by the Southeast European Times states that unofficial data suggest that as many as 150,000 abortions are committed every year in the country of just over 7 million inhabitants, giving Serbia the highest abortion rate in Europe.

The current Serbian birth rate is 1.44 children per woman, compared to a European average of 1.6, which is still well below the 2.1 children per woman needed to maintain a static population.

Since 1969, the year when complete liberalization of abortion came into effect, abortion has been available on-demand until the 10th week of pregnancy, and in cases of rape, incest, psychological trauma and socioeconomic reasons until the twentieth week.

However, according to the SETimes, enforcement of the law is lax, most abortions are conducted in unregulated private clinics, and abortion has become the cultural norm for birth control.

“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,” gynecologist Jovanka Carevic told SETimes.

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Verica Purko, a gynecological nurse at the Medical Centre in Zajecar told the news service that many women ignore abortion 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,” she said.

Research into the persistently high abortion rate in Serbia carried out by Mirjana Rašević of the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Belgrade points to the easy access to abortion as the primary cause for the high abortion prevalence.

“The large number of abortions could partly be explained by the early liberalization of abortion,” Rašević wrote. “Socio-medical indications were accepted as grounds for abortion from 1952 onwards. In 1969 the law was further liberalized. Abortion was then permitted, without any ‘waiting period’, at the woman’s request up to ten weeks’ gestation and, beyond ten weeks, with the approval of a medical commission.”

“Since 1995 abortion is available, on request, for women aged 16 or over, instead of 18 years and over as was previously the case. To obtain an abortion, women go directly to a gynaecologist who has a legal obligation to carry out this procedure,” the report states.

Rašević also noted the discrepancy between official and actual abortion numbers.

“Since about 1990 the registered data regarding induced abortions in Serbia are no longer reliable; the number of registered abortions in the years thereafter has probably been grossly underestimated,” Rašević said.

“The reason behind the incomplete registration of abortions seems to be that the majority of induced abortions, performed in private health clinics, are not included. Moreover, health care workers often underestimate the importance of abortion registration. The estimated number of induced abortions in Serbia today (excluding Kosovo and Metohia) is about 150,000 abortions per year or 90.5 per 1,000 women aged 15–49,” the researcher stated.

The health consequences to women who had multiple abortions was also considered in the study.

“Several studies in Serbia show the negative consequences of induced abortion,” Rašević reported. “One of the biggest studies, which included 2359 women, revealed that those who had undergone multiple abortions ran a statistically significant greater risk of infertility. The results of another survey pointed out that 45% of women are still emotionally and psychologically affected by the abortion they underwent, up to two months after the intervention.”

Serbian sociologist Dragutin Vasic observed that high unemployment, divorce, a low level of general health education, and lack of direction by health, educational and other institutions have all contributed to high abortion rates.

“Mass abortions in Serbia have long been assumed at epidemic proportions,” he told SETimes.

The research report by Mirjana Rašević titled “The abortion issue in Serbia” is available here.

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