5 Fetuses Discovered in Trash Can

Five fetuses wrapped in plastic bags were found in a trash container in northern Moscow on Sunday. The remains were believed to be those of aborted fetuses.

The ages of the fetuses were from their third to their seventh months, a preliminary pathologist's report found, the Investigative Committee of the State Prosecutor's Office said in a statement on Monday.

A spokeswoman said she couldn't comment on whether a criminal investigation had been opened.

The bags were found by street cleaners, RIA Novosti reported. Tvoi Den newspaper reported, however, that three school children found the remains after they noticed a pack of stray dogs around the bags.

Tvoi Den also reported that the babies were all found with placentas attached.

Russia's chief gynecologist, Vladimir Serov, said by telephone that he was familiar with the situation and thought the fetuses were definitely from an illegal abortion clinic.

"It's a criminal situation," he said.

Anyone convicted of carrying out an abortion without the relevant medical education can be sentenced to up to two years of corrective labor.

"It's very unlikely that the bodies came from a clinic," Serov said. "No one from a medical institution would throw them in a trash container. It's too dangerous. Dogs can find them and so on. That kind of thing used to happen 20 years ago."

Medical clinics would either hand stillborn babies over to their families to bury or have aborted fetuses destroyed, he said.

He speculated that an underground clinic had been keeping the fetuses from abortions in a fridge and threw them out together.

In some of the cases, the women involved may not have been able to gain permission for late-term abortions, he said.

"Late-term abortions are only performed for medical reasons, not just because someone wants one."

According to Russian law, women have access to free abortions up to the end of the first trimester, as well as up to five months if a court has deprived the mother of custody of other children, if she was a victim, if she is in prison, or if the husband is officially disabled or dead.

Last year, the Health and Social Development Ministry tightened the list of acceptable medical reasons.

Serov said that some women turn to backstreet abortionists to keep their pregnancies secret.

"If you go to an illegal clinic, it can be hidden from your family and relatives," he said.

Illegal abortionists -- or abortmakhery -- may be trained doctors, nurses or midwives, Serov said. "They are most often medical workers."

It's possible to trace the number of illegal abortions, since the women often have to come for medical help after, and sometimes they even die, he said.

"The numbers are falling in parallel with the number of abortions as a whole," Serov said.

Abortion remains extremely common in Russia due to its legality and low contraceptive use relative to the rest of Europe.

Serov said that around 1 million abortions are performed in the country every year, well over half the number of live births in 2007, which was 1.6 million.

In November, the State Duma passed a law in its first reading banning the advertisement of abortion services.