New Anti-Abortion Movement Emerges In Russia

Rising religious objections to the practice come 93 years after the Soviet Union became the first country to legalize abortions. Today, they are still legal - and free.

Norilsk maternity hospital
Norilsk maternity hospital
Ekakterina Borisenkova and Ivan Tyazhlov

SAMARA — Legislators from the Samara region in southwestern Russia would like to end federal funding for abortions, saying that providing them under the national health care law forces those who oppose them for religious reasons to bankroll “baby killing.”

The Samara delegation has introduced legislation in the federal Duma assembly that would remove elective abortions from the list of procedures covered by federal health insurance. It would have no effect on cases of rape or in situations when abortion is medically necessary. And it wouldn’t limit access to elective abortions for women, but they would be required to pay for the procedures themselves.

Abortions are currently legal — and free — for any woman up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. And abortions are legal for pregnancies between 12 and 22 weeks of gestation in cases of rape, and at any time during pregnancy when an abortion is deemed medically necessary. Minors would also still have access to free abortions.

The Soviet Union was the first country to legalize abortion, in 1920. The Soviet government then re-criminalized abortion from 1936 to 1955 — at which point abortion was once again made legal. Russian abortion laws have become stricter in the past decade, with a 2012 law limiting abortions between 12 and 22 weeks to cases of rape or medical necessity. At the same time, the number of abortions in Russia has been steadily declining, with less than a quarter as many abortions performed in 2011 as in 1990.

"Black market" fears

The bill in question is sponsored by Dmitrii Sivirkin, a legislator from Samara. He said that the initiative would relieve religious believers from “participating in baby killing” simply by paying taxes. “It is a first step towards explaining to girls that our government does not want to be killing its citizens,” Sivirkin says. “If a woman wants to have an abortion, than let her go ahead with her moral failure, and pay for it herself.”

One Samara lawmaker who first voted against the initiative, before then supporting it, cites the need to reduce the number of abortions in Russia. But he also expresses concern that it would increase the number of “black market” abortions.

Predicatably, the Samara leader of the Orthodox church sent a letter to other lawmakers, urging them to support the initiative.

Those opposed to the proposal include Irina Skupova, local head of the Human Rights office, who says the proposal violates the human rights provisions of the Russian constitution. The regional Ministry for Family Policies has also spoken out against the proposal. “All proposed laws should above all be meant to solve a problem. In our opinion, a change in the federal law would lead to an increase in the number of abortions,” says Marina Sidukhina, the ministry’s spokeswoman. According to official statistics, abortions in the Samara region — like elsewhere in Russia — are steadily declining.

The current ruling centrist party United Russia so far has been silent about the proposed law, meaning that without a party line to toe, presumably each Duma representative will vote only from his or her convictions.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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