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Abortion rate in S. Korea on decline: health ministry

SEOUL, Sept. 23 (Yonhap) -- The number of abortions performed in South Korea has decreased sharply over the past three years, as married women got fewer abortions, the country's health ministry said Friday.

According to the ministry, the number of abortions performed on every 1,000 fertile women reached 15.8 last year, compared with 17.2 in 2009 and 21.9 in 2008.

The tally was based on a survey of 4,000 women between 15 and 44, it said.

Under South Korean law, abortions are illegal unless there are extenuating circumstances such as the unborn baby posing a serious health risk to the mother.

The figures are still higher compared with Germany's 7.2 and Italy's 10.2, but the rates of termination in the country are slightly lower than Britain's 16.8 and the U.S.'s 18.9.

According to the ministry, the abortion rate for married women fell sharply to 17.1 last year, from 20.7 in 2009 and 28.1 in 2008, but the comparable figure for the unmarried increased to 14.1 last year from 12.7 in 2009.

Recently, the South Korean government has been pushing to boost the country's staggering fertility rate. Civic groups also launched anti-abortion campaigns.

The falling birth rate has become a major concern for Korea's rapidly aging demographics and its economy. The lack of child-rearing support and gender equality issues compel working women at the age of fertility to do without babies or even remain single, surveys show.

A South Korean woman gives birth to 1.22 children on average, less than half the world's birth rate of 2.54, according to the 2009 report by the United Nations Population Fund. The Korean figure was the second lowest among 185 countries surveyed, next only to Bosnia and Herzegovina with 1.21.

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