Russia Announces Plan To Halve Abortion Rates To Spur Population Growth

File Photo of Ultrasound of Unborn Child with Anti-Smoking Message, adapted from image at cdc.gov

(Article text ©2021 RFE/RL, Inc., Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – rferl.org – MOSCOW, Sept. 22, 2021 – article text also appeared at rferl.org/a/russia-plan-reduce-abortions/31473124.html)

Russia’s government has approved measures aimed at halving the number of abortions carried out in the country before 2025, according to a document published on its website.

The plan is part of the government’s latest long-term blueprint for improving the demographic situation in the country through 2025, amid a recently resumed decline in population growth after a decade of sluggish but stable increases.

The blueprint also sets forward plans for a significant reduction in infant and maternal mortality, and a rise in general reproductive health.

As part of the new measures regarding abortion, the authorities plan to improve public access to legal, psychological, and medical assistance for pregnant women considering terminating their pregnancies.

The program also sets out the goal of ensuring that 80 percent of women considering an abortion undergo consultations with a doctor, with a focus on increasing the likelihood that they reject the procedure.

The official document, which was flagged by Russian media after its publication online, has elicited controversy among women’s rights activists, who insist that abortion should be a universal right and that the state’s role in regulating it should be minimal.

Many have also taken issue with the document’s focus on “strengthening traditional family values,” often seen in Russia as a euphemism for homophobic sentiment and advocacy of conservative policies.

But the latest effort to limit abortions fits into a consistent pattern. In December 2020, lawmaker Oksana Pushkina denounced a Health Ministry resolution that set out the conditions under which women could terminate pregnancies by arguing that such restrictions will lead to a “catastrophe.”

She cited massive protests in Poland, an EU country that announced a near-total ban on abortion earlier this year.

“I’ve received a whole mass of complaints from women’s organizations and communities, and personal messages from Russian women who ask that I prevent them from being stripped of their right to end pregnancies,” Pushkina said.

Pushkina was widely considered Russia’s most progressive lawmaker until she gave up her seat in the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, after deciding not to seek another term in elections that took place last week.

Her absence in parliament will make it harder for feminists to slow the progress of an anti-abortion campaign that has been endorsed by Putin, who has made improving Russia’s demography a key pillar of his presidency.

In his state-of-the-nation address in January 2020, he described Russia’s declining population as one of the country’s biggest problems.

“Exiting this demographic trap is our historical duty,” he said. “The preservation and growth of our nation is the highest national priority.”

One year later, in a videoconference with officials, he backed plans to proactively discourage Russian women from terminating pregnancies.

“Simply convincing a woman not to have an abortion is obviously important, but what’s more important is creating conditions to help the woman and her family in raising the child, placing the child on its feet, and giving the child the possibility to receive a decent education,” he said.

In March, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said that the number of abortions in Russia had declined by 39 percent since 2016.

“Those are serious numbers,” she told a government session.