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ABORTION

Free contraceptive pill halves Norway’s abortion rate

A pilot project with free contraceptive pills for Norwegian women younger than 25 has seen abortion rates halved, yet the Health Minister does not want to roll out the system nationwide.

Free contraceptive pill halves Norway's abortion rate
Norwegian Health Minister Jonas Gahr Støre. File photo: Cornelius Poppe/Scanpix

Between 2008 and 2009, Norwegian health authorities gave out the contraceptive pill for free to women in Tromso and Hamar, while performing surveys with the test persons and young women in the two areas where the pill was not given out. The survey revealed that the number of abortions was half that in the free-pill areas compared to Bodø and Porsgrunn, where women who were not given free contraception but also answered questions about their sexual health.

Despite the study result, the health minister has chosen not to roll out the free-pill drive nationally. Jonas Gahr Støre has said such a roll-out would be too costly. The Health Ministry did not offer an estimate on the cost of abortions performed in Norway, when contacted by The Local, but said that money spent on contraception could be used more effectively on other health measures. 

"To introduce free birth control for women up to 25 years could result in a reduction in the number of abortions," Health Ministry top aide Kjell Erik Øie told The Local via email. "But it will also involve using about 100 million kroner ($17 million) on an initiative aimed at healthy young women – money that can be used alternatively on other measures with positive health effects."

The ministry added that the pilot project was part of an action plan to prevent unwanted pregnancies and abortions, and that 180 million would be spent next year to help public health and school clinics continue that work. 

"This year we have spent over 30 million on information and knowledge rather than on free birth control. It also seems that it works," Øie said.

The issue has divided opinion among Norway's public health specialists. On Friday, the head of the child and family unit in Asker municipality, Nina Nordgaard, told NRK she did not understand the minister's stance. 

"This is a weird policy," said Nordgard, who is also a nurse and underlined that unwanted pregnancies and abortions took an emotional as well as physical toll on many young patients. "Many girls have a reaction to it later in life. That must also be taken into account." 

The Verdens Gang newspaper reported on Friday that the country's Directorate of Health (Helsedirektoratet) had recommended that the Health Ministry consider free contraception for women in their twenties, as the study showed it to be the most effective way to keep abortion rates low.
 
The directorate report also stated that the women themselves said that the pill being offered for free was an important factor in their decision to actively use contraception.

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ABORTION

Norway to allow foreign women to abort healthy twin

Norway’s health authorities have ruled that foreign women pregnant with twins should be allowed to abort one fetus in Norwegian hospitals, even if it is perfectly healthy.

Norway to allow foreign women to abort healthy twin
Fraternal twins at two weeks old. The technical term for "fraternal" is "polyzygotic". Photo: multipleparent/Wikimedia Commons
The ruling, made by Norway’s Ministry of Health, is expected to open the way for women from neighbouring Sweden and Denmark, who where the procedure of “selective reduction” is not permitted in the same way.  
 
“All women, regardless of whether they are Norwegian or foreign women residing in Norway have the same right to abortion and fetal reduction,”  Torunn Janbu from Norway’s Directorate of Health told NRK. 
 
The hospitals are not required to ask for a fixed address, opening up the way for a new form of abortion tourism. 
 
According to NRK, several women from other Nordic countries had already contacted Norwegian hospitals about having the procedure.
 
Lawyers at Norway’s Department of Justice ruled in February that selective reduction procedures should be treated no differently under Norwegian law than any other abortion, and should therefore be legal up until the end of the 12th week of pregnancy. 
 
“We don’t as the Directorate have anything to say about the ethics,” Janbu told The Local. “We just inform the local health services about how to apply the law.” 
 
The decision went against the advice of many doctors, who fear that the procedure carries risks for the health of both the mother and the remaining fetus. 
 
“We have not found any medical benefit from this,” Dr Birgitte Heiberg Kahrs, a specialist in fetal medicine at St Olav's Hospital in Oslo. “On the contrary, it exposes the second child in the womb to danger as the abortion risk increases.” 
 
“Our recommendation was that this should only be allowed for twins if one fetus showed developmental abnormalities, and that it should be done between weeks 12 and 14 to reduce the abortion risk.” 
 
Multifetal pregnancies are becoming increasingly common as a result of IVF treatments, although selective reduction is more commonly carried out when there are three or more fetuses.