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Russia Enacts Law Opposing Abortion

President Dmitri A. Medvedev has signed into law the first steps intended to restrict abortion since the collapse of communism, the latest salvo in what is beginning to resemble the fierce divide over abortion in the United States.

The changes require abortion providers to devote 10 percent of any advertising to describing the dangers of abortion to a woman’s health, and they make it illegal to describe abortion as a safe medical procedure.

Tighter restrictions on abortion may follow after Parliament considers a separate health bill in the autumn.

The changes were passed by the upper house of Parliament this month as an amendment to the law governing advertising and were signed by Mr. Medvedev this week. A summary of the changes, which take effect within 30 days, was posted Thursday on the Kremlin’s Web site, which reproduces reams of documents on all of Mr. Medvedev’s legislative measures but highlights only some.

The summary on the Web site said the new law “is directed on the whole towards protecting women’s health and makes it mandatory for advertising of medical services on the artificial termination of pregnancy to include warnings on the danger of this procedure for women’s health and the possible harmful consequences, including infertility.”

In Soviet times, abortion was free and unrestricted after the late 1960s. But in recent years, contention over abortion has begun to sound like the debate in the United States.

Mr. Medvedev has made the fight against Russia’s falling birthrate and plunging population, now at just under 143 million, a feature of his presidency, offering incentives like payouts for a third child and land plots to encourage women to give birth.

Official statistics placed the number of abortions at 1.3 million in 2009, a significant drop from the 1990s. Russia’s increasingly vocal anti-abortion activists, some in Parliament, say it is perhaps many times higher, and Mr. Medvedev’s wife, Svetlana Medvedeva, has taken up the cause.

Last Friday, her Foundation for Social and Cultural Initiatives launched a nationwide campaign, “Give Me Life!” which it advertised on its Web site and in brochures and other materials as a “week against abortion.”

One brochure distributed by the foundation warns that “the consequences of a thoughtless step can ruin one’s life” and offered graphic descriptions of what it called the health threat posed by abortion, chiefly in upsetting hormones in a way that could lead to cancer.

Several local governments, including Murmansk, in the north, and Tula, just south of Moscow, supported the campaign, and state-run medical centers offered families and single women consultations to avoid abortion and lift the birthrate.

The campaign was tied into the “Day of Family, Love and Faithfulness,” a holiday created by Mrs. Medvedeva and the Russian Orthodox Church and centered around Pyotr and Fevronia, a couple who ruled the Murom region northeast of Moscow in the late 12th century and were later declared saints. The president and his wife went to Murom to extol family values and encourage childbirth.

Meanwhile, Valery Draganov, a member of Parliament from United Russia, the pro-Kremlin party, reintroduced a legislative package for consideration in the lower house that would place strict limits on abortion.

Officials of the Russian Orthodox Church had complained that members of Parliament who support a right to abortion had scuttled amendments to a health bill that would have imposed a waiting period. Voting on that bill, which raises a number of other medical issues that have caused an outcry in Russia, has been postponed until autumn.

Sensing a threat, Russian abortion-rights activists, who include feminists, doctors and demographers, have held seminars for journalists and even a small protest in St. Petersburg. Boris Denisov, a Moscow State University demographer working to create a pro-choice coalition, said, “Since obscurantists cannot turn history back, they limit themselves to small meanness like a week without abortion.”

The Rev. Maksim Obukhov, a Russian Orthodox priest campaigning against abortion since the 1990s, when he was a lone voice, insists that more and more Russians favor restrictions.

A conference last month in Moscow brought together abortion opponents from Russia, the United States and Eastern Europe. It also resulted in a declaration condemning what it called other “social deviations” including “refusal of marriage and childbearing.”

Article License: Copyright - Article License Holder: New York Times

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