Greek Abortions Boom, but Not in Legal Clinics

United Press International

Nearly a year after gaining the right to free and legal abortions, Greek women are still going to back-street abortionists rather than state hospitals, doctors and women's groups say.

Greece boasts the highest abortion rate and one of the lowest birth rates in the West. Athens University estimates that up to 800 abortions are performed daily around the country, earning doctors about 20,000 drachmas--$150--tax-free for each operation.

"Ignorance and suspicion of other contraceptive methods means abortion is still the main method of birth control in Greece," said Dr. George Kintis, president of the Family Planning Assn.

"Every year, about one in every 10 Greek women has an abortion, compared to about one in every 100 women in the rest of Europe and North America," he said.

Multiple Abortions

Other doctors believe the total in Greece is even higher.

"There are some women who have had 30 abortions," said Dr. Panayotis Efstathiades, director of the Ministry of Health's Health Promotion Department.

Figures are further complicated by women from strict Arab and European Catholic countries coming to Greece for an abortion.

Delegates at a conference on contraception said that only 6% of the 1.6 million fertile Greek women use any form of contraception. They said that regular abortions had caused sterility in 35% of Greek women.

Lack of Resources

Some officials said that the lack of resources within the government is driving women to the back-street abortionists they used before abortions became legal.

"There are long waiting lists, a shortage of beds and staff and no privacy in state hospitals," Souli Lazaridi, 25, a married shop assistant, said. "I walked out of a state hospital and went back to the doctor I used before abortions became legal.

"I had to pay him $200 for an abortion. But it was worth it for my peace of mind."

Feminists accuse the Greek Socialist government of setting itself high goals without the resources to fulfill them.

Anti-Abortion Campaign

"They announced three years ago they would set up 23 family planning centers in hospitals and nine advice centers," said Pali Petralia, an opposition deputy and a New Democracy Party spokeswoman on women's affairs. "None of these centers has yet started functioning properly due to a lack of funds."

The U.S.-based Pro-Life Society felt so strongly about the Greek abortion bill that it set up a chapter in Greece, distributing anti-abortion pamphlets and organizing rallies.

The bill also faced strong opposition from the Greek Orthodox Church and President Christos Sartzetakis.

A Greek Orthodox bishop, in a fiery sermon in Athens Cathedral on Greek independence day, embarrassed Cabinet ministers by defining abortion as premediated murder of a defenseless human being.

Ignorance a Problem

"In addition to miscarriages and infertility, repeated abortions are making Greek women lose their desire to become mothers," Athens University Prof. Antonis Comninos said.

Ignorance of contraceptive methods may explain unwanted pregnancies. But women say lack of state aid explains the high abortion rate.

"I decided to have an abortion because I knew we couldn't afford a second child," Maria Kyriakou, 34, a married office worker, said. "I couldn't get my first child in a state nursery. So I paid more than half my salary to a private nursery."

Government Criticized

She said that she went to a state hospital for an abortion, but after seeing its conditions, "I just couldn't go through with it. A friend recommended a private clinic, and I went there a week later."

New Democracy argued against making the abortion bill law until the newly formed National Health Service had enough resources to cope with the estimated 200,000 abortions performed in Greece every year.

"There is a serious lack of facilities in state hospitals for abortions," Petralia said. "The Socialist government rushed the abortion law through Parliament to make political gains."

Sartzetakis drew the wrath of women's groups by asking mothers to have more babies. He said that Greece needed more people "to defend ourselves against Turkey."

Margaret Papandreou, the American-born president of the Union of Greek Women and wife of the prime minister, rejected Sartzetakis' appeal. She said it was illogical to create children just to send them to war.

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