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Characteristics of Women Having Abortions in Estonia

Publication Abstract

Anderson, Barbara A., Kalev Katus, Allan Puur, and Brian D. Silver. "Characteristics of Women Having Abortions in Estonia." PSC Research Report No. 92-254. September 1992.

As in most of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, abortion has been the major method of fertility limitation in Estonia since the mid-1950s. This paper investigates the characteristics of women who had legal abortions in Estonia in 1991. It is based on an exploratory analysis of that year. To our knowledge, this is the only study of abortion in the regions of the former Soviet Union that employs individual-level data from hospital records and surveys.

Unlike the United States, in Estonia most women having abortions are married, and ususally they have borne at least one child. Thus, abortion is used mainly for spacing and stopping childbearing in Estonia, whereas in the United States it is mainly used to postpone the beginning of childbearing, especially for young, unmarried women.

Abortion is often a backup to contraceptive failure among Estonians but is more often the primary method of fertility regulation among Russians. Estonians are more likely than Russians to have used some contraceptive method to try to avoid the pregnancy that resulted in the abortion. Thus, although a reduction in the use of abortion by Russians would have a larger effect on the abortion rate in Estonia than a reduction in the use of abortion by Estonians, replacement of abortion by effective contraception is likely to occur more readily among Estonians than among Russians. This is because a change from ineffective contraception to effective contraception is likely to be accomplished more easily than a change from reliance only on abortion to use of effective contraception as a way to prevent births.

The paper also investigates the relation between the abortion history and other aspects of the sexual and reproductive history of the women. It provides insights into the relation between abortion and contraceptive history and the decision to marry. Although similar factors often affect the abortion-related behavior of both Estonians and Russians, the magnitude of their impact is usually greater among Russians than among Estonians. Thus, programs to promote contraceptive use to reduce abortion are likely to have a different impact on Russians than on Estonians.

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