Abortion Another Sad Ceausescu Legacy : Romania: Dictator's prohibition, in a misguided effort to increase the birth rate, made secret or self-induced termination of pregnancy the primary means of birth control.


Nelu Craciun got home from work one afternoon to find neighbors nursing his wife. An hour later she died, of complications from a self-induced abortion.

"I had no idea she had tried to make an abortion," said Craciun, 34, now left alone to raise five children. "When I left in the morning, she told me not to go drinking and to come home early."

Radita Craciun may simply have been too poor to seek a medically supervised abortion, but it is just as likely she was a victim of the confusion about sex and birth control that is one of Nicolae Ceausescu's sorriest legacies.

The communist dictator's prohibition of abortion and contraception, in a misguided effort to increase the birth rate, made secret or self-induced abortions the primary means of birth control.

More than four years after Ceausescu's fall and execution, modern contraceptives are available, but few people buy them. Abortion remains the most popular, and dangerous, method of birth control.

"These women are used to doing abortions," said Dr. Doina Bologan, a gynecologist at the Health Ministry. "It is a question of mentality. They don't realize they can die."

According to official records, deaths related to abortion have fallen since it became legal, from 545 in 1989 to 86 last year. The number of legal abortions soared last year to 600,000, or more than two per live birth. In the United States, by comparison, there are three live births for every recorded abortion.

Efforts to promote modern contraception methods, financed by a $9-million loan from the World Bank, have had little success.

Health Ministry officials say their surveys indicate 42% of women of reproductive age do not practice contraception. Of those who say they do, only 13% use such modern methods as birth-control pills, intrauterine devices or condoms.

"We have democracy now and every woman can choose," said Dan Poenaru, a government official. But women's-rights and family planning groups contend that freedom of choice means little in a vacuum of information.

"There are lots of myths and misunderstandings," said Dr. Mihai Corciova of the Society for Education in Sex and Contraception. "Although it's easier for the young to ask questions now, we haven't succeeded with middle-aged people."

Bologan of the Health Ministry agreed that the lingering effect of communist-era propaganda has been diffcult to counter.

"There was a campaign that the pill gave you cancer, and it is very difficult to change that to explain that it can be beneficial," she said.

One result is that "95% (of patients) say they prefer abortion to the coil or the pill," said Dr. Petru Mercut, director of the Philanthropic Hospital in Bucharest.

Doreta Lecoiu, 39, who has two children and was waiting at the hospital for her second abortion in four years, said her doctor "told me an abortion is better than contraception."

About 30 abortions are performed at the hospital every day on women up to 12 weeks pregnant.

Maria Riste, a 27-year-old mother of four, had traveled 10 miles from the village of Jilava for an abortion, her seventh since they became legal after the 1989 revolution.

She said she could not afford more children in Romania's post-communist economic climate of high inflation and unemployment.

Her next comment suggested that Romania's abortion mentality may be changing.

"I am afraid of the coil, but I've had enough of these abortions," she said, and promised to try contraception.

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