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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Clinic Made for Peace of Mind

Ask Elena Burtseva the difference between your average gynecological clinic and the newly opened Magee Family Planning Center, and she'll open up the cabinet in her office to display a healthy stash of imported condoms, spermicide, birth control pills and IUDs.

For anyone concerned about birth control, the center offers peace of mind and one-stop shopping. Women who might otherwise wander from drugstore to drugstore trying to find the items on a prescription from their local clinic can seek counseling, have an examination and walk out with the birth control method of their choice. Since opening last month, the center has offered help on contraception to 200 women.

"We could never have had a center like this 10, even five years ago," said Burtseva, an obstetrician-gynecologist, who for years worked in a typical zhenskaya consultatsiya, the regional clinic where all women go for gynecological care. "Before, doctors didn't have the freedom to offer a service like this."

Part of the problem, Burtseva claims, is time -- or the lack of it. The clinics women attend are typically overcrowded, so doctors have to rush through their patient load, leaving little time for contraceptive counseling.

"Do you think I had time to sit and talk with my patients about contraception before? No way," said Burtseva. "If a doctor managed to say anything about birth control before, it was only on the run."

The hectic pace of a clinic doesn't exactly put women in the mood to talk about contraception.

"There's no privacy, and women are often embarrassed to bring up the subject," said Galya Chernukha, a representative of Magee Womancare, which is jointly sponsoring the women's healthcare project with Moscow's Savior's Hospital and funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Even more than time or privacy, it was the structure of the Soviet medical system that created the greatest barrier to reliable birth control in the past. In a system where women's healthcare was rigidly divided among the zhenskaya consultatsiya, the maternity home and the abortion clinic, there was no space for birth control education. "Everyone had their job," said Burtseva. "We couldn't take one step to the right or the left."

But the powers-that-be are becoming more open-minded about birth control counseling -- perhaps finally coming to terms with the country's shockingly high abortion rate.

According to Larisa Gavrilova, the deputy director of the Health Ministry's division on women and children's health, there were 3.5 million abortions performed in Russia in 1992, dropping to 2.9 million last year.

"We've started to work much more intensively," said Gavrilova, adding that in the past three years 60 family planning centers have sprung up throughout Russia, and she expects more to open before the end of the year.

But it's not just the Ministry that is more open-minded about birth control. Society in general has become more relaxed about the very subject that not long ago may have caused the most sexually mature to blush and giggle.

"We've matured," said Chernukha, adding that the clientele at the Magee Family Planning Center has even taken to condoms. "Before people were ashamed to ask for them, but now that's all changed. In Moscow condoms are really quite popular."