Most Austrians back extended abortion services

The majority of Austrians are in favour of an expansion of abortion services.

Conservative opinion leaders turned their guns on Social Democratic (SPÖ) Health Minister Alois Stöger earlier this month after he suggested state-funded clinics across the country should provide induced abortions. The left-wing politician claimed women were “not taken seriously” at the moment. Public hospitals in three of the alpine country’s nine provinces were not offering such services.

Sixty-two per cent of adult Austrians back Stöger’s suggestion, according to Karmasin. The Viennese public opinion institute spoke with 500 Austrians for its poll. Only 28 per cent of interviewed Austrians reject the health minister’s proposal, according to magazine Profil which published the Karmasin survey.

Family Affairs Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner and other influential members of the People’s Party (ÖVP) – the conservative coalition partner of the SPÖ – attacked Stöger after he spoke about his plans with weekly magazine News. While Mitterlehner labelled the SPÖ official’s announcement as a “wrong signal,” St. Pölten diocese Bishop Klaus Küng said abortions were a “wound to society.”

Mitterlehner added abortions were a “personal decision” but also described them as a “last resort” in his opinion. The Freedom Party (FPÖ) branded induced abortions as “criminal offences.” The Green Party signalised support for the health minister’s suggestions.

Stöger explained 29 Austrian clinics offered abortions. Seventeen of these hospitals were owned and funded by the Republic of Austria. None of the private abortion clinics are located in the western provinces of Tyrol and Vorarlberg, while Burgenland in the east of the country lacks any institutions where women can seek abortions. The minister said Austrian women were often confronted with high travel expenses if they opted for an abortion.

Only a few days after Stöger stirred up a public debate about abortion services, federal statistic agency Statistik Austria said 117 more births occurred in Austria between January and June 2011 than in the first six months of last year. The authority explained that 37,080 babies were born in the country in the first half of 2011.

This slight increase will not have a significant impact on the country’s position in Europe as far as federal birth rates are regarded. Austria came second from bottom among the European Union’s (EU) 27 member nations in 2009 when 9.1 births per 1,000 inhabitants occurred in the alpine country.

Only Germany had a lower rate that year with 7.9. Research by Eurostat, the European Commission’s (EC) statistical information organisation, revealed that the Republic of Ireland had the highest birth rate in the EU two years ago with 16.8 births per 1,000 inhabitants. More than 5.3 million boys and girls were born in the EU in 2009.