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Taking Baby Steps Backwards

Despite President Dmitry Medvedev’s attempts to win over Russians with his promises of modernization and forward-thinking policy, what really goes on in the dusty realms of legislation is often at extreme odds with this shiny exterior.  Take the current furore over abortion, for example.  Reactionaries in the government and church, as well as several pressure groups, are currently blaming Russia’s demographic crisis (more extreme reports speculate that the population could almost halve by 2050) on the country’s high abortion rates, and are consequently proposing stringent new laws to complicate the process.

Cindy Jaquith at The Militant expresses concern that there is an antifeminist angle to these new attempts to outlaw abortion, because abortion is not just a question of life and death, but also constitutes a woman’s right to choose.  Her concerns are reflected in some of the legislative measures reportedly under consideration regarding abortion: married women may have to provide evidence of permission from their husbands before being allowed to abort, says RFE/RL: ‘Critics say restricting the right to abortion downgrades women’s status in society and makes them even more vulnerable to crimes such as domestic violence.

The problem seems to lie in the basic error in assuming that population has a direct correlation with abortion rates.  It simply isn’t true, says Jaquith:

[…] a major factor contributing to the shrinking population in Russia is that it has one of the world’s highest mortality rates. In 2011 it was 16.04 per 1,000 population, the fifth highest in the world. The UN’s World Health Organization reported that from 1990 to 1994, Russian men’s life expectancy fell from 64 to 57. Factors contributing to this were the breakdown of the public health system, alcoholism on a wide scale, and poor diet, the London Times said.

Russia’s high mortality rate, particularly among its male population, has been a subject of much discussion in recent years.  And further to this, data compiled by Forbes from the Federal Service of State Statistics shows that population decline, year-on-year, is gradually slowing, despite a continued high abortion rate.

But even Svetlana Medvedeva is on the case – her Foundation for Social and Cultural Initiatives launched a nationwide anti-abortion campaign just last week, inspiringly entitled, “Give Me Life!” (difficult to resist adding a few more exclamation marks in there).  Jaquith points out that the Bolshevik Vladimir Lenin, at the turn of the century, was the first to recognise abortion as a woman’s right – even before much of the rest of the world was willing to see it that way.  So this new initiative is only a hundred years out of date, then.  Very modern!