Digest of Russian media
Russian Government Going All In On Pro-Life Stance
November 23, 2023
After major progress in the modernization of birth control in the post-Communist decades and a sharp decline in the number of abortions in recent years, Russia has steadily reversed course toward social conservatism.

Just in 2023, the Duma discussed a law proposing abortion only with the husband’s consent and reducing the permissible abortion period from 12 to 8 weeks. The Russian Orthodox Church, meanwhile, has suggested excluding abortions from the list of medical procedures covered by insurance.

Private clinics in Kursk and Chelyabinsk regions, Tatarstan and annexed Crimea have refused to perform abortions, either completely or partially. Rosstat data indicates that one fifth of all abortions in Russia in 2022 took place in private clinics.

Crimea’s Moscow-installed health minister, Konstantin Skorupsky, said that clinics were encouraged to “contribute to improving the demographic situation” in the region. Now, abortions in Crimea can only be performed in state clinics.

Russia is indeed facing a serious demographic crisis. In the last three years, as The Economist reports, the country lost around 2 million more people than it would ordinarily have done, as a result of war, disease and emigration. If this keeps up, the population could drop to 120 million in 50 years, for a loss of 26 million versus today.

The invasion of Ukraine has worsened the decline in birth rates. Judging from open sources, almost 40,000 Russian soldiers have died, and nearly a million have left the country in the past two years to avoid mobilization and military service.
“Given the substantial outflow of young men in Russia due to the war, the pool of potential fathers is decreasing. However, to address the demographic crisis,”
the authorities have chosen a strategy centered on combating abortions.

In early November, regional deputies from Mordovia passed a law prohibiting inclining women to terminate a pregnancy. The term “inclining” encompasses various actions such as persuasion, offers, bribery, deception, “putting forward other demands” and providing information deemed “propaganda” of abortion.

After this, Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), urged the Duma to ban private clinics from performing abortions, since their operation may “undermine the government’s efforts aimed at raising the birth rate.” Curiously, Kirill condemned abortion not as a sin, but as a negative demographic factor. He also praised Mordovia’s new law and added that he hoped that this initiative would be “supported in other regions and at the federal level.”

According to Kirill, doctors often incline women to get abortions, and sometimes for material reasons. “In Russia, there is indeed a problem with the population. It’s a vast country, and the population is simply insufficient, not to mention the economic aspect,” added the ROC head.

Experts emphasize that banning abortions does not actually lead to increased birth rates. Demographer Alexei Raksha mentioned a few cases from the US where there was a positive impact, but cautioned that it was temporary.

“There are no other examples of any impact of abortions on birth rates. There are negative examples, such as Poland, where the birth rate decreased and the existing ban on abortions was further hardened,” Raksha said. “In other countries, we do not have any examples of the effect of allowing or prohibiting abortions [on birth rates] in the 21st century or even in the last decade of the 20th century.”

In addition to abortion policy, the Russian authorities are also cracking down on homosexual relations. In November, the Supreme Court will consider a case to declare the “international LGBT social movement” an “extremist organization.” This means that even displaying LGBTQ+ symbols could result in up to four years in jail.

In July, the Duma passed a law prohibiting gender transition. Transgender individuals in Russia are now barred from adopting children and serving as guardians. Their marriages also may be annulled.

The host of the Meduza podcast “Chto sluchilos?” (“What happened?”), Vladislav Gorin, said that the Russian government has made a “deal” with the ROC and, as a result, is pushing pro-life policies.

“I think, specifically on this issue, he [Vladimir Putin] is not the main culprit. All these initiatives, and the patriarch has spoken about it repeatedly, are like a deal. The ROC supported the special military operation, as it [the war in Ukraine] is called in the rhetoric of the Russian Federation... and in exchange its [the Church’s] agenda is basically being advanced, and the ROC is getting more integrated into the administrative system, receiving more resources and more publicity,” said Gorin.

Gorin also compared the methods used by the Russian government to fight abortions with what the Republican Party has done in the US. Russian political scientist Alexander Kynev also wrote on his Facebook page that the new pro-life rhetoric from the government is aimed at “mobilizing” the conservative electorate, though he considers this “foolishness.”

“Firstly, this electorate is insignificant. Secondly, it is already pro-government. Instead, it will ultimately hit the support for the authorities among women and youth. Our women are quite emancipated, and a majority of them are not ready to ‘stay at home and have children,’“ said Kynev.

The Russian feminist journal Wonderzine talked to women who have had abortions in Russia. They shared that the new laws terrified them.

“I said I want to be a mom, but I do not want to be a mom in Russia, and these laws only amplify the feeling of insecurity for myself and my child,” said one of the interviewed women, who chose to remain anonymous.
“Senator Margarita Pavlova from Chelyabinsk recently said that women in Russia should prioritize having children over working or getting an education.”
“We need to stop directing girls toward higher education. We need to stop producing young people who pursue higher education, and then it essentially leads to nothing. They either start working in different fields, or something else, and then this search for themselves drags on for many years, and the reproductive function is missed,” said Pavlova.

The news outlet Komsomolskaya Pravda-Chelyabinsk reported that Pavlova herself has a university degree and had a child only four years after graduation.

The opposite viewpoint was publicly expressed by the wealthiest woman in Russia (according to Forbes), Tatyana Bakalchuk. She said that a woman can combine a family and a career.

“No one should impose anything on anyone. If a girl primarily wants to take care of her family and children, that’s fine, but imposing the stereotype that she must do so is wrong,” Bakalchuk said. “In discussions about education with respected people, I said that I would not impose the idea of ‘marriage and children first, then a career.’ It is important for a girl to first understand how she can balance family and career. I would not recommend to my three daughters to get married before they get themselves on their feet.”
  • Sofia Sorochinskaia

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