For the first time since the fall of communism, Russia has passed legislation intended to restrict abortion. Signed into law by President Dmitri A. Medvedev on July 14, 2011, the new law requires that at least 10 percent of all advertisements for abortion clinics must be devoted to warnings about the potential health risks of the procedure. Although Russia has had a very liberal policy on abortion since the 1950s, including free abortions at all licensed medical clinics in the country, anti-abortion forces have been gaining momentum in the government, and many fear that this law is only the first in a series of measures aiming to restrict abortion.
Russia became the first country to allow abortion in all circumstances in 1920, and access to abortion has remained almost entirely free of restrictions. Aside from a period between 1936 and 1954 when Joseph Stalin made it illegal in an attempt to increase the population, abortion has been accessible and common. Russia’s abortion rates are currently among the highest in the world.
The newly passed law follows the introduction of several anti-abortion measures this June, including a ban on free abortions at government clinics, weeklong waiting periods, spousal consent requirements, and requirements that a woman view an ultrasound, receive counseling, and sign a document stating that she understands the “negative consequences” of abortion. These were all introduced as amendments to a health bill that will not be voted on until the fall.
Russia’s emerging anti-abortion movement is strongly backed by the Russian Orthodox Church. Opponents of abortion rights have taken on the American term “pro-life” and have been picketing abortion clinics. President Medvedev’s wife, Svetlana Medvedeva, has also been a vocal anti-abortion advocate; she has started a campaign called Give me Life! and promoted a “week against abortion.” But Russia’s decreasing population is also a driving force behind efforts to restrict abortion. The size of the Russian population has become a central issue for President Medvedev, whose other attempts to increase population include offering land plots to women to encourage them to give birth.
The new regulation was passed as an amendment to a broader law on advertising. Medvedev has stated the law “is directed on the whole towards protecting women’s health and makes it mandatory for advertising of medical services on the artificial termination of pregnancy to include warnings on the danger of this procedure for women’s health and the possible harmful consequences, including infertility.”
Although warnings will now be included prominently in any advertisements, studies have shown that abortion is a safe procedure. Medical abortions have never been linked to infertility, and when surgical abortions are performed properly and under safe conditions, the risk of infertility is extremely low. And although promotional materials for the Give me Life! campaign state that abortion can lead to breast cancer, numerous studies have demonstrated that this is false.
Given the influence of the church, the growing grassroots movement against abortion, and the continuously diminishing Russian population, many see the law as the “first in a series of new rules governing abortion,” according to the Associated Press. Although Medvedev claims the recently passed legislation is meant to protect women’s health, he has not supported any legislation aiming to reduce unplanned pregnancies, increase access to sex education, or provide support for mothers.