Demanding Abortion Rights in Russia

Against the Current, No. 223, March/April 2023

Feminist Anti-War Resistance/ FAS (Russia)

[The following is abridged from an article “Russia: Feminist Anti-War Resistance Abortion Rights Petition,” February 5, 2023, by Feminist Anti-War Resistance/FAS (Russia) and posted on the website of Europe Solidaire San Frontieres.]

“RUSSIANS ARE DYING out,” officials and parliamentarians tragically tell us from the rostrum. It would seem, indeed, that the birth rate is not rising, and that in April 2022 Russia recorded its lowest birth rate since 1943-1944. In January 2023, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin even instructed the government “to come up with a way to raise the birth rate as soon as possible” and gave a full two weeks to solve the problem.

But instead of stopping costly and senseless military operations in Ukraine where tens of thousands of Russians are dying, or instead of fighting poverty and developing effective programs to support childhood, motherhood and responsible parenthood, the Russian government together with the Russian Orthodox Church decided to force Russian women “to have at least four children” by various means.

Over the years they failed to figure out how to encourage women to have children and decided to take the most ineffective and harmful route: gradually restricting the right to abortion, making access to it more difficult and threatening to take it out of mandatory medical insurance.

What restrictive measures have already been introduced or are proposed?

• Since 2011, Russian hospitals have introduced so-called “weeks of silence:” When a woman applies for an abortion, she is to put off the date of the procedure for a week or more in order to influence her decision during this time. Often the silence delays the abortion and women have it later — with greater risk to their health, as other types of abortion (up to and including surgery) have to be used if the deadline is delayed.

• Since 2013, Putin has banned abortion-related advertising.

• Since 2016, there has been an amendment that many experts consider inhumane: doctors are required to “show an image of the embryo and its heartbeat during ultrasound” to women who want an abortion.

• The government encourages hospitals to send women to psychologists before having an abortion, or to develop special pre-abortion questionnaires in which women are asked accusatory and abusive questions. Many hospitals are also distributing manipulative pamphlets with misleading information about abortion and its consequences.

All this has one goal — to discourage women, to frighten them and to stimulate their feelings of guilt. Russian health workers in some regions are being trained in “pre-abortion counselling with traditional values in mind,” and women at consultations are asked to fill in questionnaires with questions along the lines of “Are you ready for a posthumous encounter with the soul of your child?”

• Patriarch Kirill, speaking in the Federation Council, proposed a ban on abortions in private clinics. He suggests that the increase in the number of illegal abortions (which threatens to increase women’s mortality rates) should be ignored.

• The Duma has proposed a ban on online sales of medication for abortion (the safest). Hospitals and pharmacies have been experiencing problems with the availability of oral contraceptives and pills since March.

• In the summer, the State Duma announced a draft law banning abortions under the compulsory medical insurance scheme. Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova proposed a ban on abortions before the age of 18 without parental consent.

The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has proposed to oblige married women to obtain their husbands’ consent for abortions. The number of interested statements from representatives of the ROC has generally increased.

For example, Mikhail Vasilyev, rector of the church at the headquarters of the Strategic Missile Forces, suggested a non-trivial solution to the problem of women who do not want to send their sons to die in the war. It turns out that you just need to avoid abortions and have more children — then parting with just one of them will not be so sad!

The State Duma will consider an amendment to prohibit the promotion of “voluntary abortion and the Freudian ideology of the child.”

But the truth is that all these measures to restrict the right to abortion will not only fail to bring the Russian government any closer to its desired demographic goals but will also cause undeniable additional harm to Russian women and thus to Russian society as a whole.

Studies prove that the number of abortions has nothing to do with the birth rate: in 20 years, thanks to public awareness and contraception, the number of abortions in Russia has almost halved, but it has not resulted in any demographic growth. Russians are “dying out” not because of abortions, but because of low living standards.

March-April 2023, ATC 223

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