Although this study presents results compiled from official statistics in Sweden, the result may be of interest as a common assumption, not only in Sweden, is that reimbursement of hormonal contraceptives will lead to a decrease in the rate of induced abortion among the youngest women [8, 11, 12]. However, no clear connection is found in this paper between actual sales of hormonal contraceptives (GO3A), induced abortion or the relation between different counties with different amount of reimbursement among young women 15-19 years. Our study suggests that in a modern welfare society there is neither a straight agreement between induced abortion and the amount of prescribed and dispensed hormonal contraceptives, nor reimbursement and rates of induced abortion, not only in Sweden, but also, in comparison with other Nordic countries.
Introducing subsidized contraceptives has generally been supposed to work towards lowered rates of induced abortion and in the Swedish county of Gavle a program including reimbursement was introduced in 1989. Most Swedish counties have followed this program with the exception of Vasterbotten. However, there are differences in the amount of reimbursement where some counties even reimburse the whole cost of hormonal contraceptives (e.g. Skane and Blekinge). Studies after the start of the program in the county of Gavle showed a considerable decrease in teenage abortions (50%) and an increase in the use of the oral contraceptives (60%). But, when rates of abortion among young women, 15-19 years, are followed from 1989 up to now, this encouraging result is not sustained. Instead, it seems more to follow the national abortion trends in this age group in Sweden and was at 2010, rather high in comparison with other Swedish counties [5, 6].
Recently, due to changes in the support in the county of Stockholm, worries have been put forward. By not including the newest and most expensive types of contraceptive pills in the reimbursement system, there has been a worry that this would lead to a fall in the use of hormonal contraceptives. A fall in dispensed hormonal contraceptives is indeed observed, but this is not paralleled to a rise in the numbers of induced abortion, which declined as in the rest of Sweden .
Our paper is to a certain degree hampered by the fact that although a county might contribute to cover the costs, there are slight differences regarding which different hormonal contraceptive products that are included in the reimbursement. Some often prescribed and popular products have recently been removed from the reimbursement by the pharmaceutical companies themselves, e.g. in Stockholm county. However, generic products are still available. These changes have evidently not increased rates of induced abortion in the county of Stockholm.
Different approaches in order to reduce the abortion rates have been implemented in the Nordic countries and this may result in low figures compared to Sweden . In Norway, a reduction in cost for hormonal contraceptives among the youngest women led to a considerable lower rate of abortion. Nevertheless, the rate of induced abortion in Norway is in parity with Denmark, a country with no reimbursement at all in this aspect . Neither has Finland any reimbursement of hormonal contraceptives. All Nordic countries are regarded as modern well fare states and do not lack founds for providing a good health care for their inhabitants. Evidently, comparisons between different societies indicate, that different amounts of reimbursement is not the sole explanation to differences in rates of induced abortion. To study what must be considered as reasonable proportions or changes in rates of induced abortions, straight comparisons between societies with similar family planning programs may be of help. The Nordic countries seem ideal, as they have so much in common e.g. health care, religion and culture. Support for families in these countries, for instance in connection with pregnancy and childbirth, is well recognized.
In this study, we did not try to estimate the impact of use of non-hormonal contraceptives. It is reported, that for instance the use of condoms is very often practiced in Finland, and such tradition may partly explain differences observed. However, condoms are easily available also in Sweden and obtainable and distributed through the Youth clinics free of charge for the youngest group of teenagers.
Maybe family planning in countries such as Denmark and Finland is more informative on the risks taken in relation to future fertility, which certainly is relevant to have acquired knowledge on. Also it might be suspected, that although family planning in Sweden is similar all over the country, it may be influenced by a counties local traditions or cultural differences. An interesting question in this context is also which information is given to young people on sexually transmitted diseases, which is relatively frequent among young people. Thus, by using condoms as a rule, this is avoided, but also protects against unwanted pregnancy [13, 14].
Induced abortion, both among the youngest (≤19 years) as well as among all women (15-44 years), has marked variations over time . It is a common observation in studies that use of hormonal contraceptives is subjected to changes due to alarming reports on possible complications like for instance venous thromboses . Such complications are well recognized, but a new “case report” in the media may cause a drop in the use of hormonal contraceptives, which may lead to an increase in the rate of induced abortion. Our study, however, indicates that maybe this is not the sole explanation, as we found no strict correlation between DDD/T of hormonal contraceptives and induced abortion in this age group. A drop in DDD/T does not necessarily equal a rise in rates of abortion.
The difference in Nordic countries may be caused by different traditions in the use of non-hormonal contraceptives and also at which age when a young girl starts to be sexually active. One explanation thus might be that young people start their sexual life at different ages in different counties in Sweden, depending on, religion, tradition or other cultural factors, for instance, differences between urban areas as compared to more rural areas.
In a recent study on politicians knowledge and opinions on induced abortion performed in 3 counties in southeast Sweden, we found, that in spite the obvious fact, that although this issue was considered as a “women’s right” question, it was considered a difficult topic to discuss, as the politicians were afraid to be labeled as conservative . For that reason, in Sweden it is not allowed to keep a national register on induced abortion, even if such a register would provide useful information. Such ambiguity indicates, that in spite of liberal laws, the society still consider induced abortion as a partly moral or ethical question.
In this study, based on official statistics, we did not find any clear correlation between the rates of induced abortion and dispensed hormonal contraceptives in the youngest group of women, 15-19 years, and reimbursement in all 21 counties of Sweden. Evidently, other factors such as attitudes, education, religion, tradition or cultural differences in each Swedish county as well as between the Nordic countries may be considered of importance. Our conclusion is that reimbursement is not enough. A more innovative approach is needed in order to facilitate safe sex and to protect young women from unwanted pregnancies.