Fertility Problems, Abortions Taking Toll on Russia's Population

The Florida Times Union, July 30, 2000 | Go to article overview

Fertility Problems, Abortions Taking Toll on Russia's Population


MOSCOW -- Over the past six years, Irina Budnikova has examined thousands of Russian women who want to give birth but can't -- women who have had six miscarriages, women whose ovaries atrophied before they turned 30, women so anemic that pregnancy made them faint daily.

These problems, she says, combined with Russia's still staggering abortion rate, are helping drive Russia's demographic decline.

"The population keeps getting sicker. That's one reason the birth rate is going down," she said, blaming widespread poverty, disintegrating health care, environmental hazards and poor nutrition.

Fertility problems are just one facet of a trend that deeply disturbs this bedraggled nation: Russia's population is shriveling at a tempo unheard of in the modern era. At the current rate of losing about half a million people a year, demographers predict Russia will have a population smaller than Japan's -- 125 million -- within 20 years.

President Vladimir Putin warned in his first state of the nation address last month, "If this continues, the survival of the nation will be in jeopardy."

Half of Russian men die before they can retire at age 60, as heart disease, alcoholism and smoking escalate unchecked. And Russian women aren't having children, or at least not enough. The country's birth rate has halved since 1988 to 1.3 children per woman, according to the Statistics Committee.

Most avoid childbirth by choice -- either by not having children or by ending their pregnancies. Russia has the world's highest abortion rate, with two of three pregnancies ending in abortion.

And infant mortality is on the rise, a phenomenon extremely rare for an industrialized nation. Some obstetricians say one-tenth of Russian newborns die of infections.

"We have sick women, and they're having sick pregnancies," Budnikova said in her office at the city-funded Center for Family Planning and Reproduction in Moscow.

In another wing of the clinic, Anya Morozova waited for an examination. Morozova, 18, is four months pregnant and juggling medications to protect her fetus from the herpes virus that she contracted last year.

"I didn't know much about women's health issues before I got pregnant," she said quietly, twirling her woven purse strap nervously.

Doctors at the clinic suggested one reason for increasing reproductive problems is that Russian women are having sex earlier, in their mid-teens.

That increases the chances that a woman will have more than one abortion before she has a baby. …

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