State overreach. Stopping short of outright ban, Russian authorities tighten access to abortions
Дмитрий Швец
State overreach. Stopping short of outright ban, Russian authorities tighten access to abortions
11 November 2023, 0:13

Фото: Ton Koene / VWPics / AP

This week, private clinics in two Russian regions have ceased providing abortion services—women from the Kursk region and the annexed Crimea now have to turn to state facilities. There, they face meticulous “questioning” during which gynaecologists are obliged to persuade the woman that bearing and raising a child will present no difficulties. The republics of Mordovia and Tatarstan had earlier adopted similar approach, and other regions are set to follow suit. These are but a part of new hurdles that authorities are now imposing on those wishing to terminate pregnancy—access to medical drugs is being restricted, and there are plans to introduce fines for “encouraging” abortions.

Private clinics in regions are being forced to abandon abortion services

Today, the deputy governor of the Kursk region, Andrey Belostotsky, announced that four out of five private clinics in the region licensed to perform abortions have decided to discontinue this service. He described this withdrawal as “symbolic” and recalled that private clinics in Crimea had also refused to provide abortions the day before. The chief physician of the Kursk clinic Atlant, Vladimir Pavlovsky, insists that the decision was made “independently,” while Crimea’s health minister, Konstantin Skorupsky, suggests that the clinics “were asked to contribute to improving the demographic situation by refusing to perform abortions.”

“Every child saved is a treasure of the state,” believes Pavlovsky.

This is just the beginning: Vice-Speaker of the State Duma Anna Kuznetsova, formerly Children’s Rights Commissioner, was already discussing during the summer that efforts to ban abortions in private clinics were underway in 10 regions. Prior to this, she had even suggested governors should refrain from issuing licenses for pregnancy termination altogether.

However, such a radical measure caused concern: Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Health Protection Alexey Kurinny believes that instead of a total ban, there should be a “strict licensing process for private medical institutions.”

A ban on abortions in private clinics is already planned in the Kaliningrad region, and in Tatarstan, as Kuznetsova said, a third of such medical institutions have refused to carry out abortions. In Mordovia, according to her, private clinics “voluntarily” ceased performing abortions over the summer.

Other regions are introducing fines for “persuading” abortions

Mordovia has become the first in the country to introduce fines for “persuading” abortions, a measure that was soon adopted in the Tver region as well. In the law, “persuading” is understood as “actions, demands with the aim of compelling a pregnant woman to undergo an artificial termination of pregnancy through persuasion, offers, bribery, or deceit.” Fines for individuals will range from 3,000 to 5,000 rubles.

Likewise, a similar ban is likely to emerge in the Tambov region—there, the governor has submitted a bill to the regional parliament.

However, the situation appears most dire in the Belgorod region neighbouring Ukraine: as far back as 2018, the BBC reported that there, before any abortion, one must undergo a commission, including a conversation with an Orthodox priest.

Sale of drugs for terminating pregnancy is further restricted

Even if clinics in a particular region do not follow suit, terminating a pregnancy may still become more difficult: as early as October, the Ministry of Health ordered stricter control over the drugs Misoprostol and Mifepristone, which are used in hospitals for the artificial termination of pregnancy.

As explained by the chief external expert on women’s reproductive health of the Russian Ministry of Health, Natalia Dolgushina, this means that the drugs will be removed from over-the-counter sales.

Women will be dissuaded with promises of awards and free education

Various measures aimed at limiting women’s rights to abortion are likely to appear across Russia soon: Belostotsky mentioned that all regions have adopted demographic policy programs. In late August, Vedomosti newspaper reported proposals for boosting birth rates from 16 regions: “consultations and questionnaires” for women deciding to have an abortion, subsidies, and social benefits. For instance, in the Kurgan region, student mothers who give birth are promised a transfer to free tuition, but only if there is a vacant spot.

The contents of those “consultations and questionnaires” are listed by Fontanka, which recounts a guide on how gynecologists should speak with women wishing to have an abortion—currently part of the “Reproductive Health” project in at least eight regions in state clinics, which women will be forced to attend if private companies remain without licenses.

The guide includes three sections with conversation scenarios: for underage pregnant women, those from 18 to 35, and over 35. To the minors, it is suggested to convey the following: “Pregnancy is a beautiful and natural state for every woman. It is normal to experience doubt, fear, and anxiety. Tell me, why are you scared and in doubt? I will try to help you.” Doctors will have to convince the potential mother that having a child will not drive men away or hinder career building.

For women over 18, among other things, it’s communicated that postponing pregnancy could lead to future conception difficulties. Two other claims include: “If the father of your child does not support you now, this may change soon,” and “Statistics show that couples with children divorce much less often than childless couples.”

Moreover, they try to entice pregnant women with the “Parental Glory” medal for giving birth to four children—and an order for seven. If a woman insists on terminating the pregnancy, the doctor should suggest she think it over and refer her to a psychologist.

Authorities are so far distancing themselves from particularly odious measures: Speaker of the State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin called on deputies not to advance unacceptable initiatives after United Russia member Biysultan Khamzaev proposed paying for abortion refusals.

Finally, the authorities are trying to combat abortions ideologically: the manual for the new subject “Fundamentals of Russian Statehood” describes the childfree life concept as a “cult of death,” and the idea of “living for oneself” instead of giving birth to children is regularly criticised by President Vladimir Putin.

Editor: Egor Skovoroda

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