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Patino ’09 Presents Brace Center Project on High Abortion Rates in Russia

According to Elizabeth Patino ’09, only one in four pregnancies resulted in births in Russia in 1991 – three out of four were aborted. Patino traveled to Russia this summer and immersed herself in its culture to gain insight into the effect of abortion on the lives of Russian women. Her research culminated in a Brace Center for Gender Studies presentation on Monday. Patino found that 16 percent of Russian women have abortions during their lifetimes. With the current birth rate lower than the death rate, Russia’s population is in steep decline, according to Patino. She also learned that the Russian government prohibits doctors from fully informing their patients of contraceptive options. While visiting Russian pharmacies, Patino questioned the pharmacists about contraception. “Pharmacies were the best part,” she said. “I wanted to see [the pharmacists’] reactions. It was the [most fun] but also the most nerve-racking.” Patino said that she was initially timid but eventually worked up the nerve to speak to Russian citizens in addition to pharmacists about contraception. After speaking with people, she reached the conclusion that abortion in Russia was a social problem, not a moral issue, as a result of Soviet repression of religion. “Since religion was forbidden by the Soviets, citizens never said anything like, ‘My church says that I shouldn’t get an abortion because it’s wrong.’ Instead women debated whether getting an abortion would be better for their futures and if existence would be good for the child,” she wrote in an email to The Phillipian. She decided to become involved with the Brace Center Student Fellowship because she had been learning Russian and was interested in gender studies. When she heard about the abortion rate in Russia, the topic piqued her interest. “It was a perfect topic because of my Catholic upbringing,” said Patino. Patino comes from a family of Colombian immigrants with deeply rooted Catholic beliefs. Catholicism had taught her that abortion is wrong, but she wanted to learn more about the social abortion trends in Russia. Her faith and feminist views clash on abortion; she wanted a completely new perspective on the topic, Patino said. Peter Merrill, Instructor in Russian, was Patino’s faculty advisor for her Brace Student Fellowship. Merrill’s Ph.D. in Russian language and literature gave him insight into the culture Patino was researching. “[Patino] came to me quite early in the process,” said Merrill. “Her project evolved as we developed each piece of the project.” “[Mr. Merrill] helped me with the language aspect of [it],” Patino said. “He knew the culture and prepared me by telling me which aspects of it to think about.” When asked about her opinion on abortion, Patino said, “I’m still indecisive, but I’ll definitely think that women need to have a choice. I personally still think of it as murder, but for some women, it is the right choice.” Students at the presentation seemed surprised by Patino’s research. “It was an eye-opener,” said Jennifer Gerald ’10 about the Russian abortion rate. “You don’t really get to hear a lot about Russia that way,” said Rachel Coleman ’10. Although her project is now finished, Patino is still interested in the subject of abortion as a social aspect of Russian life. She plans to continue her studies about abortion and how it is a part of Russian women’s lives, as well as the multiple aspects of society that lead to women choosing abortion.