Orthodox Church-backed abortion bill sparks protest in Russia
Women of all ages used to fill gynecologist Lyubov Yerofeyeva’s Soviet state clinic, lined up by the dozen for back-to-back abortions. “It was more common to take sick days for an abortion than for a cold in those days,” she said.
Two decades after the Soviet Union’s collapse, wider availability of contraception and a resurgence of religion have reduced the numbers of abortions overall, but termination remains the top method of birth control in Russia.
Its abortion rate — 1.3 million, or 73 per 100 births in 2009 — is the world’s highest.
Backed by the Russian Orthodox Church, an influential anti-abortion lobby is driving a moral crusade to tighten legislation and shift public attitudes that are largely a legacy of the Soviet era.
Adding to the debate is the Russian government’s effort to reverse a population decline caused by low birth rates combined with very high death rates. With Russians dying nearly twice as fast as they are born, the United Nations predicts that by 2050 its population will shrink by almost one fifth to 116 million.
Women’s rights groups voice outrage that the Church would play a role in shaping Russia’s secular laws and say abortion must remain a choice. They acknowledge the statistics point to a public health travesty but suggest the problem would be better resolved by sex education.
At the heart of the debate is an amendment to Russia’s law on health that is all but guaranteed to pass in the lower house after it was approved in a critical second of three readings on Oct. 21.
The law would cap abortions at 12 weeks, impose a waiting period of up to one week from initial consultations and require women over six weeks pregnant to see the embryo on ultrasound, hear its heartbeat and have counseling to determine how to proceed.
“Our two main motives are the fact that Russia is dying out and our religious tradition. We cannot forget our faith,” Yelena Mizulina, chair of the family issues committee that fielded the law, told Reuters. “Despite the long Communist period, it is seen as murder, as a violation of the Ten Commandments.”