Despite Cannes Festival Win, Abortion Film Misses Romania Abortion Problems

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 28, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Despite Cannes Festival Win, Film Misses Romania Abortion Problems Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 28
, 2007

Bucharest, Romania ( — The Romanian film "4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days" portrays the plight of a student trying to get an illegal abortion in the days Communists controlled the country. The film won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival but media portrayals of the victory say nothing of how abortion has become a means of birth control there.

After the fall of communism, one of the first acts of the new leadership in Romania in 1990 was to legalize abortion.

As doctors learned they could make money from selling abortions to women, they encouraged the practice and discouraged the use of birth control. In the first year alone, more than 600,000 abortions were done in Romania.

That’s half as many abortions as were done in the United States that year, even though the US population was more than 11 times larger that Romania’s at the time.

The number of abortions have since fallen in the eastern European nation, but one thing hasn’t changed. Making abortion legal didn’t make it any safer for women.

The Romania Health Ministry says 15 women died from complications resulting from legal abortions in 2005 and another 12 women died last year.

When abortions were at their highest in 1990, a problem began that the nation’s leaders are now trying to tackle — underpopulation. At the time, there were two abortions for every life birth — significantly higher than the rate of one abortion per three live births in the US at that time.

Like other eastern European countries where the number of abortions skyrocketed after legalization, Romania faces underpopulation problems and many of the nations in the region considering measures to limit abortions in order to increase the number of births.

Ironically, after the communists instituted the abortion ban, the birth rate doubled the next year.

Cristian Pop-Eleches, a professor at Columbia University in New York, says that children born after a nation banned abortion have better economic and educational success. He indicated last June that they have "significantly better" educational and labor market achievements than children born just before.

Pop-Elches points to Romania to make his case.

"Urban, educated women working in good jobs were more likely to have abortions prior to the policy change," explains Pop-Eleches. "So a higher proportion of children were born into urban, educated households after abortion became illegal."

Looking at births from before and after the abortion ban, Pop-Eleches found that children born after the ban were more likely to finish high school and to work in a more highly-skilled job.

"The apparently surprising result of superior educational and labor outcomes of children born after the abortion ban can be explained by changes in the composition of women having children," writes Pop-Eleches.

"[The study] indicates that the positive effect due to changes in the composition of mothers having children more than outweighs all the other negative effects such a restriction might have had," he says.

Pop-Eleches accounts for the difference in short-term and long-term outcomes, suggesting that educated women in Romania changed their behavior more drastically as a result of the ban.