Abortion in Russia Leads to Widespread Infertility

By Dave Andrusko

The Washington Post headline said it all: "Russians Feel Abortion's Complications: Used as Birth Control in Soviet Times, Practice Has Led to Widespread Infertility." Indeed, the number of abortions is incredible and the ramifications are nothing short of staggering.

According to the Post, "About 5 million--or 13 percent--of Russian married couples are infertile, and doctors report that diagnoses of infertility are on the rise. In nearly three out of four cases, infertility is attributed to the woman, typically because of complications from one or more abortions, according to [Vladimir] Serov and other health experts."

But this enormous infertility plague follows as night follows day in light of the startling fact that there are more abortions than live births in Russia: l.7 abortions for every one live birth, to be exact. (In the United States there are roughly three births for every abortion.) A 1994 study by the Rand Corporation found that by the end of her child-bearing years, the average Russian woman had undergone no less than three abortions, the Post reported.

The ensuing infertility epidemic, in turn, has compounded the impact of an already dangerously low birth rate: "On average, Russian women now bear just more than one child," the Post reported. (There is an almost off-hand reference in the article to a "soaring death rate," but what that means is not elaborated.)

Now the 6th most populous country in the world, Russia is expected to fall to number 17 in 50 years, according to "UN population experts." The only good news in an otherwise unremittedly grim story is that the abortion rate has dropped by 45% between 1992 and 2001, and the number of women who died from abortions "also dropped by one-half in the 1990s, according to the Rand study."

Although the situations are radically different, one point of comparison very much worth pondering between the United States and Russia is the experience of the woman whose life story is intended by the Post to be representative.

Katya Esipova told the Post's Sharon LaFraniere that she had not been "overly worried" about having an abortion when she found out she was pregnant at 19. "All my friends had done it already," she said.

But "never lik[ing] to take a chance on her health" [!], Esipova asked doctors why she continued to bleed a month later. She was told not to worry; this was "perfectly normal."

She ought to have worried. When Esipova and her husband wanted a baby four years later, they learned that both her fallopian tubes were partially blocked, the result of an infection caused by the abortion. Three years later she did get pregnant but, tragically, the baby lodged in one of the fallopian tubes.

At age 30, "she has all but given up her hopes of having a baby," the Post reports. "'It is so terrible to wait every month and be disappointed,' she said over a Greek salad in a downtown restaurant.

'I was too young. I did not realize how big a problem an abortion could be.'"

One can only wonder how many tens of millions of other women have never realized "how big a problem an abortion could be."