Abortion… Eight letters that make up one word that is fraught with controversy no matter where one is in the world. Russia is no exception to the controversy. In 1920, the then Soviet Union under Bolshevik rule, became the first country to legalize abortion. The law “on the Legalization of Abortions” asserted that to protect the health of women abortions would be performed “freely and without any charge in Soviet hospitals.” To the Lenin government, this measure was seen as a way to destroy and destabilize the family unit, and force women back into the workforce, instead of on maternity leave. In fact, in Russia, the cost of birth control costs more than an abortion!
That statistic proved to be very eye-opening because it showed just how deeply rooted the Soviet Union was with its abortion culture. This policy basically gave women no choice but to abort an unwanted child. When abortion becomes the #1 method of birth control within a country, it points directly to the lack of proper and affordable health care for childbearing women.
This chart details with great care, the number of abortions had by Russian women going back to 1921. As we study the chart, a startling fact is that the lowest amount was 10,000 is the first year stats were kept. Eventually, that number would climb into the millions, as more and more women took advantage of this legal practice.
It wasn’t until 1936, when facing declining birth rates, that under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, that the practice of abortions was outlawed. The reason behind the ban according to Lewis Siegelbaum‘s essay on the abolition of legal abortion found here was that “On May 26, 1936, the draft of a law “On the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood” was published in Soviet newspapers with an appeal for public discussion of its contents. The draft included measures aimed at “combating light-minded attitudes towards the family and family obligations,” tightening restrictions on divorce, and increasing the prestige of mothers of many children.”
Stalin thought that the practice of giving birth was “a great and honorable duty which was “not a private affair but one of great social importance.” To that end, he decreed that “Soviet women would carry the double burden of holding a job in the wage-labor force and working in the home raising children.” When the law went into effect in 1937, the number of abortions dropped (as it was illegal) until 1953 when Stalin died.
The Russian response to the aforementioned law was surprising, to say the least. Most of the opposition came from young urban women who believed that the “strains that bearing and raising children would impose on their pursuit of a career, on available living space, and other quotidian (daily) concerns were negative and counterproductive. In old Soviet society, in their Civil Code, Russian women were not allowed to even work without her husband’s permission “Wives cannot be hired for work anywhere without their husband’s permission” (pg 9)
Today, abortions are still practiced in Russia, but, they are much more closely regulated. For instance, according to The Russian Criminal Code Article 123, ” Performance of abortions by a person who lacks higher medical education of an appropriate specialization
shall be punishable by a fine in the amount of 100 to 200 minimum wages, or in the amount of the wage or salary, or any other income of the convicted person for a period of one to two months, or by compulsory works for a term of 100 to 240 hours, or by corrective labour for a term of one to two years.”
Clearly, the old Soviet practice still taints much of the Russian Federation today. The government has worked to make laws to stem the number being performed, but, much like in the U.S., one has to imagine that there are illegal doctors and clinics that perform the service for a fee. However, perhaps it’s prudent to note that many Russians have begun to see that children do in fact bring happiness to a family as illustrated below 🙂
This video clip provides more firsthand accounts of abortions in Russia. It’s startling that Russia, not the U.S. leads the world in the number of abortions performed.
- Images From: http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1936-2/abolition-of-legal-abortion/abolition-of-legal-abortion-images/#
- Abortion Chart: http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/ab-russia.html
12 thoughts on “Mother Russia Finally Says “Nyet” To Abortions…Kind of”
Great post! I think it’s interesting how Lenin and Stalin separately viewed abortion (even though Stalin faced declined birth rates) and the policy shifted after Stalin took over. Great find with the chart and your other sources.
Good job, this post is really well written. It is interesting to see how the governments attitude towards abortion changed over time. Your sources were really helpful for providing extra information. You covered a broad period of time and still managed to present a clear report.
I thought this was a great post that highlighted a controversial and interesting topic. The fact that birth control was more expensive than abortion was truly insane and backwards, particularly when the procedure of abortion during that time period was not easy or safe for the woman it is being performed on. I thought it was interesting how there were different views on abortion in the Leninist and Stalinist governments. Well done!
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I loved this post. I wrote about this same issue last time and used the same chart for records of abortions. I find it so crazy how abortions were so embedded in Russian culture, in no way like they were/are in the U.S. Your analyzation of the issue is great.
I had no idea you used that chart. I’ll be sure to give your post a read. It’s like the only chart I found with that detailed abortion data!
The abortion debate is so complicated — in Russia as in the US. But in Russia it is also linked to ongoing concerns about demographics — slow (or negative) population growth. Caroline’s post on the “lost” census addresses this: https://cnfountain.wordpress.com/2017/03/13/i-got-99-problems-and-census-is-1/
You found amazing sources for this post. I still want to know more about that weird chart (the one Johanna used last week.)
I agree. It is a touchy subject for many. I saw that in the early 2000s, their population growth actually declined which led to Putin issuing laws banning abortion ads. I will look at her post. I noticed that coincidence when Johanna mentioned it above. I had not read her post but the chart was great being that it was the only chart I found with Russian abortion data as detailed as it was. I definitely could have used it more throughout though.
It’s detailed, but can you tell what the source of the data is? Would feel better about using it if we knew where his stats came from.
It’s from a website called johnstonsarchive.net. The site data is compiled by Dr. Robert Johnston, a physicist using data from the Abortion Worldwide Report as well as 25 other sources listed below the chart. I also dug deeper and found this link http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/index.html that lists the same data for various other countries. Let me know if I can be of any other assistance!
Right — I saw that last week when Johanna brought the site to our attention. Still wish the sources for the stats were cited in a more transparent way. You have to get down to this level before you find his source base, and it’s still not clear what’s coming from where: http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/ab-russia.html
I think you do a really good job of showing how something so controversial, such as abortion, can fluctuate so much over time. The graph that you provided definitely did a good job of really illustrating how vastly different societies views on abortions have changed over time. This is an interesting topic because it’s something that can be related back to the film that we watched in class. As we saw then, times were tough for people and abortion was certainly a common practice. This is something which we can assume was due to the costs that would be associated with having an unwanted child or, as you point out, due to the high cost of birth control.
I really enjoyed this post. It was very descriptive throughout the history of abortions in Russia. I think the timeline you gave in regards to how the state shifted it’s ideas of abortion throughout time made it easy to compare and see why the changes occurred. This was really interesting and a great topic!