Escalating Restrictions on Abortion and Reproductive Health
Russia, under President Vladimir Putin, has long emphasized what are often referred to as “traditional family values.” This stance has recently extended to heightened restrictions on the LGBTQ community, including laws against gender-affirming surgeries and the prohibition of what is termed as “gay propaganda.” The latest focus of social conservatives in Russia has turned towards reproductive rights, an area where new legislative actions signal a tightening grip.
Abortions, which have been legal and accessible in Russia, are now facing a wave of legislative challenges. These actions seem driven by concerns over declining population numbers and a broader push towards conservative ideals. Notably, two regions in Russia, Mordovia and Tver, have enacted laws penalizing the coercion of women into abortions. Simultaneously, access to abortion-inducing medications is being curtailed, a move that could also impact the availability of certain contraceptives.
In Crimea, now under Russian control, all private healthcare facilities have ceased offering abortion services. This decision aligns with the region’s Ministry of Health’s strategy to address demographic concerns. Across Russia, private clinics are increasingly limiting abortion services, pushing women towards state-run facilities where longer waiting times and pressure to continue pregnancies are reported.
Historically, Russia allowed abortion without conditions up to 12 weeks, extending to 22 weeks under specific social circumstances. However, under Putin’s regime, these conditions have been narrowed significantly, now covering only cases of rape since 2012.
Zalina Marshenkulova, a Russian feminist blogger and activist, highlights the patriarchal nature of the state, emphasizing the minimal attention given to women’s issues and voices. The recent surge in anti-abortion measures is believed to be partially linked to Russia’s ongoing conflict with Ukraine, which has reignited demographic concerns. Russia’s population has been on a decline, a trend exacerbated by the war.
The Kremlin has long prioritized addressing the low fertility rate, but previous strategies, like increased state benefits for mothers, have not yielded the desired results. The Ukraine conflict has brought renewed focus to these demographic challenges.
The abortion topic in Russia has a complex history, being first legalized in 1920 under Soviet rule, then banned in 1936 due to declining birth rates, and re-legalized later. The Soviet era’s lack of contraceptives made abortion a primary method of birth control, leading to high abortion rates.
Today, Russia still records a higher incidence of abortion compared to many countries, despite a significant decline from the Soviet era. Recent measures include reintroducing the Mother Heroine award for women with ten or more children, a policy echoing the Stalinist era but serving more as a value statement than a practical social policy.
Amid these developments, discussions are ongoing to potentially ban abortions in private clinics nationwide. The Russian Orthodox Church is advocating for even more stringent timeframes for legal abortions. Meanwhile, state-funded helplines like Women for Life are actively discouraging abortions.
Russian activists are bracing for a new phase in this ongoing struggle. In anticipation of possible future shortages, groups are stockpiling abortion drugs and creating guides to inform women about their rights. As Marshenkulova puts it, education and the fight against ignorance are crucial in these changing times.