General Information / History / Stats / Types

Abortion in Russia (11/04)

Abortions outnumber live births in Russia nearly 2 to 1. 

The women I spoke to…took it for granted that they had friends who’d chide them with “I’ve  had thirty abortions already, what’s the big deal?” when they had to make that trip. And, according to one gynecologist who has been practicing for 45 years, there was certainly no reason to blanche when a girl told you that “I’d rather just have abortions than not have satisfying sex.”
 Western media [Washington Post] put Russia at number three for its abortion rate, just after Cuba and Romania.

Conservative think tanks like the Rand Corporation are more blatant: Russia has the highest abortion rate in the world…According to a compilation from the Demographic Yearbook of the European Council and an analogous Demographic Yearbook by the United Nations, Russia is the only nation in the world where abortions consistently outnumbered live births by a ratio of about 2 to 1. In 1970, for example, there were 1.9 million births and 4.8 million abortions.  Today, that number has decreased: for every live birth there are between 1.3 and 1.5 abortions.
Why? Ask an average woman, or a health organization, or a gynecologist, and the excuses are all pretty much the same: communism, lack of apartment space, no money to raise children, no decent contraceptives, etc. The problem is that each of the “excuses” are by no means unique here. Russia still tops the list by far for abortion rates across Soviet republics. China, with its one child policy and often mandatory abortions? At its highest rate in 1983, there were only about 16 abortions for every 19 live births. Romania,  former communist state, had an astounding rate for a couple of years in the 1960’s: when the ratio reached 4 abortions for every live birth. But in the following decades, the rate leveled out, and there were generally fewer abortions than live births.
So is a lackadaisical attitude towards abortion just another attribute of the “enigmatic Russian soul?”
…[trying to] attribute the sexual health problems to a poor economy and an indifferent government, the statistics bare their teeth and the anecdotal evidence gets ever more depraved. While Inga Grebeshova, of the Russian Association for Family Planning, says that the Soviet Union did not produce oral contraceptives, other women had it otherwise… One woman, who has been married for 35 years to the same man, told me: “I had a friend and she used the pills and didn’t understand why we were getting abortions.” But those “pills”, Grebeshova says, had high doses of hormones and  weren’t even intended as contraceptives in the first place. Real oral  contraceptives appeared only in the early nineties. But today, with oral contraceptives readily available at every  pharmacy, they still remain one of the less popular forms of birth control…Abortion for many women just seems the safer, more familiar thing to do – even though, according a report from the Rand Corporation, complications from abortions are behind more than one in four maternal deaths.
 So if Russian men shudder at the thought of wearing condoms, and women are traditionally suspicious of anything remotely resembling hormones (“they’re afraid to get fat, so they’d rather have abortions,” a younger woman said) what about other forms of birth control? Sponges? Foams?
 Russia was the first country in the world to legalize abortion in 1920. “Yes, I was ashamed to say ‘put on a condom,’ so I opted for abortions,” one woman says – even though, as a biologist, she knew their danger.
 “But the Soviet Union had nothing to do with that. It was just bad upbringing.” Upbringing that she says went back for generations. And even Soviet culture, insisting on a woman’s “freedom” from man, was powerless to eradicate one little thing: that having a man was still the top priority in a woman’s life. “What’s a little abortion if it makes him happy?” says a pensioner, recalling the attitude of many of her friends. “After all, it’s source of pride, if I’m married, and you’re not.”
Even today, there are still not nearly enough men to go around, with the life expectancy of a man (at 58) nearly 15 years lower that for a woman. Cut the supply, and the demand increases. [25Nov2004  Anna Arutunyan, The Moscow News]