However, the number of terminations declined in comparison with previous years.   

 

In the first nine months last year, there were nearly 170,000 abortions - about 8000 more than the number of births - according to the ministry.

  

Abortion and birth control were both banned under the Communist dictatorship that ended with the execution of President Nicolae Ceaucescu in late 1989.

 

The ban was revoked and in 1990 more than three abortions were recorded for each birth.

The abortion rate has gradually declined since then, but it remains the main means of birth control for many women, given the difficulty of obtaining reliable contraception.

  

Abortions are freely available during the first third of pregnancy.

 

Contraception

  

The ministry said the number of women using contraception remains very low. The government has allocated 35 billion lei ($1.1 million) this year to improve access to family planning services.

  

The United States has cut off funding and other assistance to family planning groups that perform or offer counselling on abortion.

  

Romania, which has a population of about 22.3 million, is one of the poorest countries in Europe.

 

According to the health minister, infant mortality there is three times higher than in the European Union. Out of every 1000 babies born, 16 die before the age of one.

  

In rural areas the infant mortality rate is even higher - rising to 24 per 1000 births in the northeastern province of Vaslui, one of the poorest in the country.