As the first snow of the season fell on St. Petersburg, Russia, Svetlana, 17, sat with two new acquaintances on a bench. They talked, giggled, and waited. Three hours later, they would continue their conversation in the ladies room, over cigarettes, as they put on their make-up, ready to return home. The only difference between those two conversations is that now, in between puffs, they can speak about being free from their pregnancies.

Abortion still is the main means of contraception in Russia, due mainly to a history of poor sex education during the Soviet era. Then, health care existed "in words, not in practice," according to the director of a St. Petersburg clinic, who added that the large number of abortions is "a social problem, not a moral one." The Russian church is silent on the subject.

Abortion is a tradition passed down from mother to daughter. The average Russian woman has four abortions in her life. Doctors in this St. Petersburg clinic have seen women who have had more than 20 of the operations. It is not uncommon to see the same girl, year after year. According to Russian law, girls can have an abortion without parental consent after they reach 15. Abortions can be performed up to the 12th week of pregnancy here, but other clinics perform them up to the sixth month.

This clinic performs about 2,000 abortions a year, mostly for girls 12 to 18 years old. It also provides free health care for teens. Staff members try to change the tide of misinformation about sex by teaching teens about contraception and distributing quality condoms, which had been unavailable or too expensive. The Russian government provides very little social help for single mothers. The 20,000 rubles a young mother receives amounts to less than $5 a month, an amount not even sufficient to buy bread.

Abortion remains the chief form of birth control in Russia. This rudimentary clinic for young girls in St. Petersburg operates as an assembly line, with one patient exiting as two wait in line.
A teenager is counseled before she receives an abortion in a clinic in St. Petersburg, Russia. The whole process is very quick. By the time they come to the first consultation, most girls have decided on the procedure. Doctors do little to dissuade them. The operation usually takes place one or two day after the first visit.
A Russian psychologist give a talk to three young patients waiting for an abortion. The talk stresses safe sex in their future behavior.
A teenager waits to get her first abortion.
A doctor injects a pain killer just minutes before the abortion is started. In some cases, the girls cry out in pain.
Just after her abortion, a girl is taken upstairs to rest for three hours before she is sent home.
One girl waits her turn for an abortion, while another sleeps after her operation.
A doctor and a technician examine an x-ray of a woman who has had many abortions to determine whether it is safe for her to endure another.
After a thee hour rest, three patients have a smoke before returning home. Sometimes their boyfriends wait for them. Their parents rarely do.