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Free abortions stir controversy among Russians

Abortion September 10, 1996
Web posted at: 10:45 p.m. EDT (0245 GMT)

From Correspondent Mike Hanna

MOSCOW (CNN) -- Every year, millions of Russian women undergo an abortion.

A typical Russian woman will have between three and five abortions in her lifetime, health officials say. Poor and expensive contraceptive choices have made abortions an often sad but relatively acceptable birth control method in Russian society.

But even in a society inured to the issue, recent legislation has provoked deep controversy.

Homeless

Russia's government is making free abortions available to women who fall into several newly-defined categories, through their twenty-second week of pregnancy.

The group includes: the homeless, those living beneath the poverty line and registered refugees.

"Why are we doing this? Because such cases have become a reality of life," said Russian deputy health minister Nikolay Vaganov. "We cannot neglect them."

Among some of the poor, like 29-year-old Angela, the move has been welcomed. She already has five children because she says she could not afford an abortion back home in the Ukraine.

"You have to pay for abortion down there, and it's expensive," she said.

Critics of the free abortions blame Russia's declining birth rate on cheap abortions. In the past six months, twice as many deaths as births have been recorded in Moscow.

But health officials deny that abortion has anything to do with this, saying that in the past five years the number of legal terminations has gone down by nearly 30 percent.

"Of course it's sad," said Vaganov. "The whole story is sad, the number of abortions still being performed is sad, mortality figures are sad...."

"The thing is that you can just see more of what used to be hidden from the public eye" he said. "We are just trying not to hide the new realities of life, and we aren't neglecting the old ones."

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