SOFIA, Aug 15 (AFP) - Having a baby in Bulgaria has become such a costly decision that abortions outnumber an already low birthrate as well as the percentage of women who use contraceptives, official statistics show.
According to the health ministry, 93,540 abortions were carried out last year in Bulgaria compared to 72,188 births, which constitutes a difference of nearly a third.
Forty percent of Bulgarian women have had at least one abortion, the ministry said.
As for the birthrate, so far this year it stands at 7.89 births per 1,000 residents, the lowest percentage in Europe.
"My salary amounts to 130 German marks (72 dollars) and my husband, who is an engineer, is unemployed," said a 32-year-old teacher. "One bag of powdered milk costs 17 marks and a baby stroller 160 marks. How can we even dream of having children?"
Radosveta Stamenova, the head of the Family Planning Agency, said that Bulgaria currently holds third place in Europe in terms of the number of abortions performed, 90 percent of which are voluntary. The first two countries are Russia and Romania.
Although the overall number of abortions has been decreasing since 1991, that is largely due to the fact that 600,000 Bulgarian women capable of having children have emigrated.
For those who decide to end their pregnancies, they say their choice comes down to survival.
"I regretted having an abortion because I was dreaming of having another child," said Dessislava, who works as a translator. "But how can I afford a maternity leave when we don't have enough money even though my husband and I work."
As for using contraceptives, which became available in pharmacies in 1990, their cost is prohibitive in a country where more than half the population lives in poverty and where the national currency, the lev, was devalued by 600 percent in 1996. Inflation currently stands at 505 percent.
The infant mortality rate is meanwhile rising with 15 out of 1,000 babies dying at birth. The country's population now stands at 8.2 million compared to nine million in 1988.
"I had to bring with me to the hospital surgical gloves and thread as well as cotton and baby milk because they had low supplies," said one woman. "And to receive some good care I had to pay the doctor under the table."
"One of my patients who is a pharmacist and whose husband is a doctor had her 18th abortion in 1994," he said.
According to United Nations statistics, Bulgaria ranks first in Europe in terms of the number of women under the age of 20 who have children.