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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Right To Choose Not to Abort

A symposium on women's reproductive health held in Moscow this week highlighted one of the worst plights of Russian women: abortion.

It is not an uncommon experience here at dinner parties with Russian friends for the conversation to turn to Birth control and the hostess to mention casually that she has just had her sixth abortion.

"Six abortions! " we think, and then everyone continues with their meal.

Birth control is not high on the list of priorities in Russia, but it is an issue that affects every Russian, male or female.

Abortion has been the primary means of family planning in this country since it was legalized in 1955.

Since then, the pharmaceutical industry in the West has developed a wide array of birth control devices, most notably the pill. But in Russia these contraceptives rarely reach the people who need them. Women still become pregnant when they don't want to and end up returning to abortion centers. According to state statistics, there are from 9 million to 18 million abortions performed in Russia per year.

This is a dreadful situation. There are not only medical risks involved in so many abortions; there is also enormous psychological damage.

And there is, of course, the cost factor. Imagine the price tag that could be put on the "abortion industry". The money spent on all those operations is simply wasted, especially considering how chronically underfinanced the medical system is.

Undesired pregnancies can be prevented much more easily and less expensively. But there is another factor: the "medical abortion mafia". Representatives of Western pharmaceutical firms in Moscow complain privately that too many doctors make a living in this industry and that, therefore, the medical establishment is reluctant to introduce new methods of birth control.

This may well be true, since Russian doctors have such a hard time getting by on their state salaries. The abortion business is, at least, a stable source of income.

Without foreign aid, it will not be easy to break this circle. But what this country really needs is its own extensive campaign to support local production of contraceptives and to make women aware of the choices they have.

This week's seminar might signal the beginning of such a campaign. It is interesting to note that the conference was cosponsored by Choices Women's Medical Center, a U. S. -based organization that fights for the right of women to have an abortion if they want to. Here, the fight for women is to choose not to have abortions if they don't want to.