RUSSIA – Putin orders government to improve ‘abortion prevention’ efforts

…the Moscow Times headline said euphemistically. It seems, however, that the order supports efforts to limit access to abortion in Russia. The order was made public days after Poland’s top court ruled that abortions in cases of fetal anomalies were unconstitutional. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and regional heads will be tasked with “reassessing Russia’s abortion prevention strategies and developing mechanisms to increase funding for medical organisations that improve their abortion prevention rates”. How?… By “improving access to legal, psychological and medical assistance through the maternity insurance programme” as an important demographic policy priority. In short, putting pressure on women to have babies they may not want. This is outlined in Putin’s order as a key measure aimed “to dissuade women from abortion”.

This tactic has been tried before in Russia. It didn’t succeed. The Russian Orthodox Church and conservative lawmakers have pushed for an end to state-funded abortions to boost population numbers in recent years, but that isn’t new either. The population of Russia is 146.8 million, and except for 2019, it had not declined in a decade.

Women’s rights advocates voiced concern over Russia’s move toward tighter restrictions after the government introduced a mandatory waiting period between the abortion request and the procedure itself in 2011. Some Russian regions require women to undergo counselling with a priest or a psychologist before an abortion can be approved. For a history of how policies like these have failed to stop women having abortions since 2003, see this report.

Russian women also reported being denied access to free abortions during the coronavirus lockdown earlier this year when Russian clinics postponed scheduled medical procedures, as we reported from Moscow in April 2020 here, though this was contested. In contrast, outside Moscow, no one reported refusing abortions.

Putin’s anti-women efforts aren’t just about abortion, however, On 30 October, Russia  introduce a UN Security Council resolution on the rights of women in conflict, that would have watered down previously agreed commitments on human rights, prevention of conflict-related sexual violence and women’s equal participation in peace negotiations. The resolution failed as ten countries abstained.

SOURCE: Moscow Times, 27 October 2020 ; The Guardian, by Liz Ford, 30 October 2020 ; PHOTO by Sergei Fadeichev/TASS, Moscow Times, 9 March 2020