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Analysis & Opinion
05.07.11 Advertising Abortion
By Andrew Roth

A bill requiring abortion advertisements to carry health warnings passed the lower house of Russia’s parliament last Friday and seems destined to pass into law without any major hiccups. While Russia’s pro-life movement is seeking to redefine the debate over abortion in the public sphere, its leaders are keeping in mind that in Russia, which has historically had a liberal abortion regime and where more than 1.25 million abortions were performed last year, a legal ban on abortions remains unrealistic.

The new bill will restrict advertisers from calling abortions “safe,” saying that at least 10 percent of the total space of advertisements for abortion clinics and services, found mainly in newspapers and classified sections, would have to be dedicated to listing the possible negative health effects of abortions, including infertility. The law’s passing is only a modest success for Russia’s anti-abortion coalition which has been actively seeking to pass more sweeping legislation that will strip abortion of its definition as a medical service, allowing doctors to refuse to perform abortions and insurance providers not to cover them in their plans.

“In general, we wish there weren’t any advertisements for abortions at all, but as they exist, it’s important to put some limits on them,“ said Father Maxim Obukhov, the head of the “For Life and Defense of Family Values” non-governmental organization. Advertisements for abortion clinics play an important role in legitimizing abortion, he said, so opposing that influence should be one part of a comprehensive set of legislation to combat abortion in Russia.

In Russia, abortions can be performed for any reason up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy, and for serious social reasons up to 22 weeks into a pregnancy. In 2008 1.2 million abortions were performed in Russia according to data gathered by RIA Novosti, making it far and away Europe’s per-capita abortion leader: For every 10,000 people, 87 abortions were performed in Russia that year, with Romania coming a distant second, with only 59 abortions per 10,000 people, and Britain a distant third with 35 abortions per every 10,000 people.

While the Russian pro-life movement is heavily led by the country’s Orthodox Church, it has also in recent years been finding more of a home in the leading United Russia political party, and is a favorite cause of President Dmitry Medvedev’s wife Svetlana. Besides moral reasons, politicians have heavily couched the abortion debate in terms of the country’s demographic crisis. With Russia watching its population steadily drop, fears that Russians may be eclipsed by the country’s multiplying Muslim population and that the country will further slip as a world power have made for strong conservative rhetoric from United Russia.

Yet such initiatives have had limited success so far. When only 25 percent of Russians supported legislation to strip abortion’s title as a medical service, Yelena Mizulina, a United Russia deputy who chairs the Duma committee for family, women and children, said that the bill would have to be reviewed. "…it's quite possible that taking into account the public opinion, we'll ditch some of our initial proposals," Mizulina said. "We want to consolidate the society through this issue, not split it."

Despite an increase in anti-abortion sentiment in Russia in the recent period, as well as a decrease in the total number of abortions, the majority of Russians still do not support banning abortion. “Of course a full ban of abortion would be the final goal, but we have to consider that most people aren’t against abortions. Not even most politicians are against abortions, and so we have had to propose more limited measures,” said Obukhov.
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