FOREIGN AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Russia enacts new law to restrict abortion
, November 12, 2011
Faced with a catastrophic decline in its population, Russia is acting to restrict the availability of abortion in the country.
The restrictions follow nearly 90 years of permissive abortion laws, introduced originally after the communists seized power in Russia in 1917.
Since the collapse of communism in Russia around 1990, the official abortion rate has declined. Currently, government figures put the number of abortions in Russia at about 1.3 million a year, about the same as the number of live births.
However, pro-life activists in Russia believe that the real abortion rate is much higher, because of the incidence of illegal abortions.
As a result of the ready availability of abortion, Russia’s population over the past 20 years has plummeted.
Between 1992 and 2008, the population decreased by nearly 6 million — to around 145 million. It is currently declining at an even faster rate.
The Russian President, Dmitri Medvedev, has repeatedly expressed alarm at the situation, and his wife is a leading pro-life activist in the country.
The new law, recently introduced by the Russian Duma (Parliament), restricts abortion to the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, but there is a loophole which allows later abortion where economic circumstances are claimed to justify it.
The new law also introduces a mandatory cooling-off period before an abortion may be conducted.
World Congress of Families managing director Larry Jacobs called Russia’s new abortion restrictions “a modest step in the right direction — but a positive development nonetheless”.
The Russian Orthodox Church wanted more restrictions, including spousal consent, parental consent for minors and the right of physicians to refuse to perform abortions, but its proposals were not adopted.
Larry Jacobs commented: “Russia is facing a severe demographic crisis. The nation is losing 700,000 people a year. Its current population of 143 million could decline to 112 million by the year 2050.
“While the new legislation is to be applauded, much, much more needs to be done if Russia is to have a future.”
In July, the Russian President signed a number of amendments to the law on advertising that requires abortion advertisements to carry warnings about their side-effects, including loss of fertility.
“The new amendments require that warnings about the dangers should occupy no less than 10 per cent of each advertisement,” reported Russia’s state-run international news agency, RIA Novosti.
On its website a summary said the new 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”.
RIA Novosti added, “The bill also stipulates that mothers who don’t want to keep their babies will be able to leave their newborn children anonymously in special adoption centres.”
The latest developments in Russia are partly a response to the demographic crisis, but are also influenced by the growing influence of Christianity in Russia, as the Russian Orthodox Church re-emerges after 70 years of persecution and control by the Soviet state.
Since the collapse of communism, neighbouring Poland has enacted laws which outlaw abortion, a stand for which it has been condemned by the European Union.
Initiatives are also under way to restrict abortion in Slovakia and Croatia, according to the American web site, LifeNews.com.
Joseph Meaney from Human Life International, an American-based Catholic pro-life organisation, said that that pro-lifers in Slovakia recently held a conference celebrating the 10th anniversary of the first major pro-life conference to be held in their country, in 2001. Participants discussed their future goals for spreading the culture of life in the country.
“They’re hoping to get a number of things enforced [in Slovakia]. One of them is conscientious objection: allowing hospitals and doctors to refuse to participate in any kind of abortion,” he said.
Attempts to give doctors and other medical professionals in Victoria the right to conscientious objection to abortion were rejected by the state parliament, and this law remains on the books.
“There has been strong pressure on countries to force institutions like Catholic hospitals to allow abortions to take place,” Mr Meaney said. “They’re really hoping to make that absolutely impossible in Slovakia.”
Mr Meaney also said that doctors in Slovenia who are conscientious objectors to abortion are having a hard time finding work, and are being punished administratively for not performing abortions. Medical school students in Slovenia are also under pressure to perform abortions, he said.