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Vol. 75/No. 29      August 8, 2011

Moscow, to boost births,
targets right to abortion
A reactionary alliance of the Russian government, the church hierarchy, and groups opposed to a woman’s right to choose is pressing to make abortion illegal again. The backdrop is an anti-working class, nationalist campaign by top state officials who say Russia faces a “national security” crisis because its population has sharply declined. They blame the falling birth rate on women.

Currently abortion is available in Russia for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, at no cost to the woman, and into the second trimester under certain conditions, the Associated Press reports.

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev signed a law July 14 that makes it illegal to describe abortion as a safe procedure. The law also requires at least 10 percent of any ads for abortion services to contain warnings that abortion is dangerous to your health.

This fall, according to the Moscow news agency RIA Novosti, the Russian parliament will consider a bill that would disqualify abortion as a medical service, meaning doctors could choose not to perform them. The bill would also make it a crime for doctors to perform abortions during the second half of pregnancy.

Opponents in Russia of women’s right to control their own bodies use the same methods as their U.S. counterparts—falsely claiming to be “pro-life” and glorifying the family. President Medvedev’s wife, Svetlana Medvedeva, is a good example. Her Foundation for Social and Cultural Initiatives recently sponsored a “Week Against Abortion” campaign titled “Give Me Life.” Along with the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy, she also declared a “Day of Family, Love, and Faithfulness” holiday.

Russia’s population has declined by about 5.7 million since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, according to AP. The public health system, already in crisis under the Stalinist regime, has sharply accelerated its decline.

In 2006 then-president Vladimir Putin, in his state of the nation speech, said shrinking population was “the most acute problem in modern-day Russia.” As the Moscow-based correspondent for the British Independent newspaper put it at the time, “The problem is regarded as a national security issue since large areas of Siberia and the far east of Russia are dangerously underpopulated. It is an anomaly that has stoked fears … that [Russians] will one day be usurped by migrant workers from neighboring China, whose 1.3 billion people are packed into a territory considerably smaller than Russia.”

“We have to stimulate the birth of a second child in every family,” Putin declared. As an incentive he called for cash and other benefits for women who have more children. An exuberant Putin announced a slight increase in population by 2009.

Russia has a very high abortion rate—it was 53.7 per 1,000 women in 2004, according to the UN. This is because the current government and previous Stalinist regimes rejected providing safe and effective contraception, forcing women to end pregnancy by abortion alone.

But a major factor contributing to the shrinking population in Russia is that it has one of the world’s highest mortality rates. In 2011 it was 16.04 per 1,000 population, the fifth highest in the world. The UN’s World Health Organization reported that from 1990 to 1994, Russian men’s life expectancy fell from 64 to 57. Factors contributing to this were the breakdown of the public health system, alcoholism on a wide scale, and poor diet, the London Times said.
Related articles:
Protests set out to keep abortion clinics open
Bolsheviks were first to legalize right to choose  
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