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Traditional Values and the War on Rights: Abortion in Russia

The debate about reproductive rights is never-ending and inherently polemic due to its implications for religious beliefs and women’s rights. The conversation about reproductive rights unfolds constantly on regional, state and international scenes and no matter how it turns out, someone goes to bed angry.  It is easy to forget, in Canada, that access to contraception or abortion might be challenged, let alone that it might be punitively expensive.  Just beyond our borders, however, the situation is incredibly different.

To that effect,  about a year ago I wrote a piece called The State of The Uterus about the issue of women’s reproductive health in the USA. Since I wrote the article last year  the situation in the United States has shifted. A recent study by Guttmacher Institute has found that the overall rate of abortion in the USA is at its lowest since 1973, but despite 203 abortion restrictions added since 2011, there appears to be little correlation between the two facts. It is instead more likely that more women are using long-term, effective birth control solutions – effectively curtailing the need for abortion altogether. That said, the culture war wages on, an interesting recent example being pro-lifers taking on, of all organizations, Girl Scouts USA. Further, access to contraception,which should have been made easier by Obamacare, remains under fire  and is seen by some as contributing to a declining birth rate. This same line of reasoning has recently been used in Russia to justify restrictions on access to abortion.

Where Americans have moved towards long-term contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancy, Russian women with very limited access to such means are more likely to become pregnant and subsequently terminate their unwanted pregnancies. Using abortion as a method of birth control is both medically unsafe and costly, but when women are forced to choose between an unwanted pregnancy and such a procedure it has been proven time and again that they will choose abortion. However, lately, even access to abortion has been limited and the future of already restricted reproductive rights in Russia is bleak at best.

The Situation at Hand

Abortion before the fall of communism was essentially unrestricted, and the rate of abortion was high. At the same time, birth control methods were often ineffective as IUDs often failed and condoms were notorious for breaking. To make matters worse, oral contraceptives are believed to be linked to a number of physical ailments. This has created a culture of distrust for contraception made only worse by a lack of sexual education in schools. This liberal attitude towards abortion remained until 2011 when Russia restricted not only access to abortion itself but JesExtender also information regarding abortion. It became illegal to describe abortion as a safe procedure, and 10% of advertising funding had to be used to describe the dangers of abortion. It was argued that abortion, even though the abortion rate had fallen, was responsible for the declining birth rate. The law in place bans the procedure past 12 weeks, and forces women to wait two to seven days after a consultation before receiving an abortion. Further, doctors can refuse to perform abortions if they are not medically necessary. Feminists and other activists protested this issue and argued that if you want to curtail the use of abortion as birth control, the solution is simple: provide access to sex education and contraception. Neither of these demands have been met.

In late 2013, Putin banned all advertising for abortion, arguing once again that abortions needed to decrease in order to fight a declining birth rate. It seems that Russia would prefer unwanted children to a declining birth rate, despite the fact that unwanted children are more likely to born into family who cannot afford them. Given that the low birth rate is accompanied by a high death rate for impoverished children in Russia, this logic is shaky at best.

A Bleak Future

The argument for a reinstatement of  traditional family values is one that Russia has been making for years in order to try and increase population size and the impact of this argument has been widespread. It is this argument that was used to restrict abortion law in 2011 and in 2013, and it is this argument that has been used to justify anti-LGBT laws. This recent set of laws was pushed forward by an Evangelical organization called the World Congress of Families, and further supported by the Russian Orthodox church, The Russian Orthodox church also played a role in the 2011 rulings, and argued that they didn’t go far enough. At the time the church was not arguing for a complete ban on abortion but did argue that the procedure should require the permission of one’s husband if one is married, or one’s father if the woman is underage. In September of 2013 however, the Orthodox church called abortion a “mutiny against God.” Between the current state of LGBT rights in Russia, Putin’s move towards more conservative values, and the proven influence of organizations such as the WCF and the Russian Orthodox church, it seems likely that abortion will soon be under fire.  Russian women, who have so few options already, will be left with almost none at all.

-Meagan Potier

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About meagan.potier

Student of World Religions and Political Science at McGill University. Meagan joined The Political Bouillon last year in hopes of being able to keep writing and editing, as well as foster her interests in international politics. As Managing Editor. Through her position she helps the Bouillon evolve into stronger and more comprehensive publication that embodies the myriad of opinions and perspectives it represents.

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