The number of abortions carried out in Greece has risen 50 percent since the start of the crisis and miscarriages have doubled. Births at public hospitals, meanwhile, have dropped 30 percent in the same period and assisted pregnancies by 20 percent. These are but some of the findings that were presented on October 17-18 in Athens at the 7th Panhellenic Conference of Family Planning organized by the Greek Society for Family Planning, Birth Control and Reproductive Health.
According to the experts, the crisis has affected women across all age groups and socioeconomic strata, as well as the behavior of young people and teenagers in particular.
Greece has become an abortion leader. Ten years ago, there were 200,000 abortions a year among a population of 11 million, while today this figure has risen to 300,000, according to the figures presented at the conference. It is estimated that 140 in 1,000 pregnancies end in abortion. This usually concerns women who already have one or two children.
At the Alexandra Maternity Hospital, the biggest public institution of its kind in Greece and the benchmark for the study, births have dropped 30 percent since the start of the crisis.
“A prenatal care package for an uninsured woman at a public hospital costs just under 500 euros, while a caesarian section costs 1,000 euros. The cost is higher for migrant women, who may pay as much as 1,500 euros for a C-section,” says Constantinos Papadopoulos, an obstetrician/gynecologist (OB/GYN). “And if you add the cost of raising a child, then you understand why women take such decisions.”
Many women, the experts says, use medication to induce an abortion without medical supervision. Athens University OB/GYN professor Giorgos Kreatsas stresses that miscarriages have doubled from 2 to 4 percent. He attributes the cause to the economic crisis, which is responsible not just for increasing levels of stress and insecurity but also for a drop in the standard of care pregnant women receive.
According to a study presented at the conference, over 30 percent of sexually active teenagers do not use any form of birth control. The most common effect of this is the appearance of HPV. The virus, which is the only known cause of cervical cancer, has seen a significant spike in the past few years, while vaccinations against it remain very low in Greece compared to the rest of the European Union.
“There has been a reduction in the number of teenage abortions in Greece and I believe this is connected to the HPV vaccine campaign. However, the numbers for the vaccine are low. Greek mothers need to be convinced that it’s safe and encourage their children to have it,” says Efthimios Deligeoroglou, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Athens. It is estimated that just 35 percent of women have been vaccinated against the virus in Greece, compared to 95 percent in Australia, for example. The virus is the second-most frequent illness to appear in women from the age of 15 to 44, while a sharp increase has been seen in its precancerous manifestations in the 16-25 age group.
“I am absolutely convinced that if sex education were introduced at schools we would have fewer unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases,” says Evgenia Stergioti, an OBGYN and PhD candidate at Athens University. “I believe that children today are better informed than the previous generation but this does not mean there aren’t problems.”
The general secretary for equality, Fotini Kouvela, told the conference that there are plans under way in cooperation with Health Minister Andreas Xanthos to open family planning departments at the country’s health centers in order to inform women on the use of birth control such as the pill and IUDs, as well as to offer advice and help in the case of unwanted pregnancies.