Russia’s parliament is considering a bill that would remove abortions from free state health insurance and ban private clinics from administering them.
While a majority of Russians are not in favor of abortion, critics have spoken out against the proposed law
This article originally appeared at Russia Beyond the Headlines
Russian women seeking to have an abortion may soon be unable to do so after deputies in the country’s parliament, the State Duma, proposed an initiative that will allow only state-run healthcare institutions to perform abortions and cancel mandatory health insurance coverage for abortions.
If the bill, which was introduced in the lower house of parliament on May 19, is accepted, using the services of a private clinic will be banned, with performing abortions outside of state-run healthcare institutions being punishable with a fine of 50,000 rubles to 200,000 rubles ($940-3,780) for citizens.
While abortions are currently covered by the compulsory insurance system in Russia, the new legislation would theoretically restrict the possibility of having a pregnancy terminated only to the very rich, though the wording of the bill is unclear on whether citizens would be able to pay for the service in state clinics.
"The artificial termination of pregnancy funded by mandatory health insurance will be possible only in the presence of certain medical or social reasons," says the bill's author and head of the State Duma Committee on Family, Women and Children, Yelena Mizulina.
However, Valentina Matviyenko, Speaker of the Federation Council (Russia’s upper house of parliament) has said that the council won't support the bill and Deputy Health Minister Olga Golodets has also spoken out against the initiative.
Shadows of the past
The initiative is not new. There was a law against abortions in the Soviet Union until 1955. But this resulted not in the growth of the country's birth rate, but in the women's death rate, since women instead resorted to carrying out abortions illegally, often at home.
In 1993, in accordance with the "Foundations of the Russian Legislature on the Citizens' Health Protection," each woman received the right to make autonomous decisions on her maternity. However, according to a 2013 survey held by the Public Opinion Foundation, 62 percent of Russians still think that having an abortion is unacceptable.
"A woman is psychophysically drawn into maternity from the first days of conception, but some doctors or relatives try to convince her that this is still not a baby," says Director of the Family and Childhood Charity Foundation Svetlana Rudneva. "But I have no doubt that the baby exists from the moment of conception and it's absolutely natural that you cannot kill a baby."
According to a Levada Center survey, 28 percent of Russians agree with Rudneva, while 51 percent does not consider abortion judicial murder.
Maternity – a question of free will?
Natalya from Moscow was 16 years old when she found out she was pregnant. It had been her first sexual experience. The father was a 17-year-old neighbor at her dacha. It was clear from the very beginning that there would be no family and that the girl would remain a single mother.
"My mother gave birth to my brother when she was 18 and the following year I was born," says Natalya. "She wasn't able to go to university and a couple of years later my dad left us. So I immediately decided to have an abortion. I knew about the possible consequences, but risked it. Now I'm 26, I have a wonderful husband, a little son and a job. I don't regret anything.”
Finances and living conditions key to decision
Women have abortions for various reasons. The survey carried out by the Public Opinion Foundation says that Russians believe the main reason is due to poor living and financial conditions. Doctors admit that this is usually the case.
"Mainly it is the women who are socially unsettled, those who think they will not be able to raise and nurture a child, but there are also those who are not married or those who are not sure about their men," explains Yulia Gorelova, director of the Urogynecological Department at Medswiss, a Swiss company operating in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Another Levada survey says that more men are against abortion than women, 68 to 57 percent, respectively. Yet Gorelova adds that in practice, "very often it is the man who imposes the abortion, even though for men it is much easier to prevent the situation by using contraception. The abortion is not a risk to their health and they don't understand what a moral blow it is for the woman."
But if the woman decides to have the baby and the man refuses to participate in the raising of the child, the woman does not have much choice. In the case that there is no availability in the kindergarten and no one can help take care of the child, the woman is forced to stay home. In Moscow, for example, the state gives the mother 20,000 rubles ($375) monthly to look after her child until the age of one and a half.
Lack of sexual education a problem
"I don’t think that abortions should be banned," says Gorelova. "Everyone has her own reason. But I as a doctor always try to dissuade the person from having it and I am proud that often I manage to do so. In order to decrease the number of abortions it is important to develop the knowledge of contraception. Children must come into this world only when their parents want them."
Most Russians (64 percent) are convinced that sexual education must be provided in school, though the subject has never been taught in Russian schools. Discussions on whether sex education should be taught in schools and, if so, what form it should take, have been taking place for more than 10 years, but the state authorities are still no closer to a decision. Doctors say that almost all abortions that are carried out on minors are related to a lack of education.
"Often mothers bring their daughters to have abortions, those mothers who in their time did not teach their daughters about contraception. This could have saved the children from abortion. But in Russia parents are often embarrassed to speak about these things at home," says Gorelova.