Russia, Abortion and Demography
At the same time that the demography summit was wrapping up
in Moscow and preparing its final declaration,
lawmakers in the lower house of the Russian Parliament were voting on a bill that would require 10% of all of the space used in ads for abortion clinics and
services to “carry a list of possible negative consequences for women,
The bill would also restrict advertisers (mostly operating in newspapers and classified sections) from
saying that abortions are “safe”.
The bill had its third reading last Friday (Moscow time) and
was passed by the State Duma deputies. It is expected that the bill will pass
the upper house and be signed into law by Russia’s President, Dmitry Medvedev,
without any further issues. (Interestingly, Medvedev’s wife, Svetlana is a
strong advocate of the pro-life movement in Russia, so perhaps that should help to make the
President’s mind up on whether or not to sign this bill!)
Deputy Viktor Zvagelsky, a United Russia member of the Duma’s
Economic Policy and Entrepreneurship Committee, stated that the current ads:
"'…make young girls believe that they won’t have any problems
interrupting a pregnancy.'
He said that the bill was drawn up because 'the situation with
abortions in Russia was depressing.'"
The sheer number of abortions in Russia is certainly
startling. In 2007 there were 1.5
million abortions, nearly as many as the
number of life births that year (!) according to the Duma’s web site. In 2008 according to RIA Novosti there were
1.2 million abortions and Russia had by far and away the most number of abortions
per head of population in Europe. (87 per 10,000 people, Romania was second
with 59, and Britain was third with 35 per 10,000 people). The
law currently allows an abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy for any
reason and for a serious social reason up until 22 weeks into a pregnancy.
Apparently the debate around this bill drew heavily on Russia’s
terrible demographic figures rather than any moral issue with aboriton itself. Between 1992 and 2008 the Russian population
shrunk by 12 million people and even the UN (while predicting huge increases
for the world as a whole) has predicted that the population of Russia will
shrink to 116 million people in 2050. With
these numbers in mind, doing something to lower Russia’s abortion rate is seen
as one way to help reverse Russia’s population decline.
While members of Russia’s pro-life movement, including the
leader of the non-government organisation, For Life and Defense of Family
Values, Father Maxim Obukhov, see their
“final goal” as “a full ban of abortions”, this limited step is aimed at those advertisements that "play an important part in legitimizing abortion". This limited restriction is something
that would be unthinkable in many western countries. In New Zealand girls who
are legally minors do not have to inform their parents (let alone get their
consent!) that they have had or are seeking an abortion. It is a “right” that
should not be limited in any way. (New Zealand does not have abortion on demand, although the evidence suggests that that is practically what happens here.) Discussing abortion or presenting the other side
of the argument is seen as an attack on those “rights”.
So even to consider passing a law that requires abortion providers to
give their patients the full facts on the procedure, a common enough occurrence
when it comes to other medical procedures, is a big step. I wonder if bad
demographic news in other countries with low birth rates will also force a
reconsideration of the view that abortion rights are sacrosanct elsewhere in the future…
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