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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 September, 2003, 08:41 GMT 09:41 UK
Russian women tell of abortion dilemmas
A mother and daughter in Moscow told BBC News Online of their differing experiences of unwanted pregnancy and attitudes to abortion.

Olga is of a generation of Russian women who often had several abortions - in their youth, abortion had largely taken the place of birth control. Her daughter Maria's generation has better access to contraception and is perhaps becoming more influenced by moral or religious concerns.

Russian mother
Olga's generation was poorly educated about sex and pregnancy
Olga Polyakova, 50

It so happened that I had to have my first abortion before the birth of my daughter. After she was born I got pregnant again very quickly, without realising it straight away, and when I did I had to have another abortion. So I know all about them.

During my youth most of my girlfriends and I myself were stupid and poorly educated in sexual matters. We didn't know, for example, how to protect ourselves properly. It wasn't done to talk about it with our parents, and no books on the subject had yet been published in our country.

So among my friends, and among other women generally, there were many who could be pregnant for a month or two, or three, before they began to suspect anything.

Both the doctors and my relatives tried to persuade me not to do it
That is, they understood that something strange was happening to them, because they stopped menstruating. But they didn't go to the doctor about it - they didn't trust them much, and thought everything would get better by itself.

But ultimately they had to go to the doctor - and by then the only option was to give birth or have a late abortion.

In general, the whole Soviet health system was designed to encourage women to give birth - at any cost. So, when you went to the gynaecologist and said you were pregnant but didn't want a child, they immediately started to tell you that you should not have an abortion, because you would be crippled and might not be able to have children afterwards.

They tried to persuade me not to do it - both the doctors and my relatives. I knew that a child was something I didn't need, but all these conversations weighed down on me. I was 20 years old. It was not easy for me to take the decision. Altogether, my first abortion was a morally difficult experience.

Russian daughter
Maria found herself influenced by her religious convictions
Maria Vasilkova, 28

When I found out that I was pregnant, my first reaction was to go and get an abortion. I was married, but children were not something I had been planning on. I was a student and pregnancy was the last thing I needed.

The thought had never occurred to me that I might become pregnant, because, so far as I remember, I always took precautions.

My mother had been advising me to go on the pill, but I never did - I was afraid of messing up my hormones and of other side-effects.

I went to a clinic, where a doctor confirmed that I was pregnant, but said I was in time for a mini-abortion. The gynaecologist strongly advised me to have an abortion, because she said I might have a miscarriage.

I had a religious attitude to pregnancy - I regarded it as God's will
She even told me my child was not needed. "There are lots of women out there, if you don't have a child, someone else will," she said.

On the morning of the day when I was meant to have the abortion, I was in a determined frame of mind. I got dressed, took everything I needed, and walked slowly to the hospital. I got to the room where it was meant to happen, but when the nurse came out to see me I suddenly felt very hostile.

I realised that if she tried to touch me, I would hit her. So when she invited me into the room I said No, turned on my heels and went out.

As I left the hospital I had one thought: I used to have a good figure, but now it will get spoilt, probably forever.

In general, I had a religious attitude to pregnancy - I regarded it as God's will. Before that, I had heard from many gynaecologists that I might not be able to have children, but I was not terribly bothered about it.

I wanted to have a career and it was clear that the appearance of a child could destroy those plans. But it seemed to me that if I had an abortion, I might be punished for it, and even more might end up being destroyed - and after that, perhaps, there would just be a void.

I know that my mother had two abortions, before my birth and afterwards. But I still think that children are from God. If I have been trusted to bear one, what right do I have to kill it?



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