Abortion is one of the most controversial issues in many countries around the world. Russia, however, has traditionally not been one of them. Soviet Russia was the first country in the world to legalise abortion in 1920. Though the practice was again banned under Stalin, millions of abortions were performed every year after 1955. In 1990, at the very end of the USSR, over four million abortions were performed [ru] in Russia alone. A lack of access to effective forms of birth control, coupled with bleak economic and social conditions, meant that Russia had one of the world's highest rates of abortion throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Since then, the number of terminated pregnancies in Russia has steadily declined, falling to just over two million in 2000 and to just under one million [ru] in 2011. But Russia still leads the world in abortions compared to live births, with 1,022 abortions performed for every 1,000 births in 2011 (the only country where the former exceeds the latter).
Russians have traditionally favored legal access to abortion. In a poll conducted by the Levada Center in 1998, 65% of Russians said abortion “should be permitted and carried out according to the wishes of the woman.” Though the figure has fallen somewhat in recent years, a majority of Russians have consistently opposed measures aimed at restricting access to abortion. Despite this, there are indications that sections of the Russian government are moving to introduce restrictions on the practice. In April 2013, the Russian Duma banned advertisements for abortion services. Then, in October, deputies in the local assembly for the Samara region voted in favour of an initiative that would ban state insurance from paying for terminations. The reason given by the bill's author, Dmitri Sivirkin, is that funding abortions at the expense of the state's coffers is an anathema to Russia's religious citizens. Sivirkin explained [ru]:
Почему православный, мусульманин, иудей должны своей копеечкой участвовать в этом грехе? Если женщина хочет убить своего ребенка, если она дошла до этой степени нравственного падения, то пусть она делает это за свой счет, пусть это будет ее грех! Почему она делает это за счет общества?
Why must an Orthodox [Christian], a Muslim, or a Jew take part in this sin with their own kopecks? If a woman wants to kill her own child, if she's fallen to that level of morality, then let her do it at her own expense. Let it be her sin! Why should this be done at the expense of society?
Responding to criticism that his initiative would compound Russia's already dire problem of abandoned children, Sivirkin replied, “I believe if God allows a child to be born, then God will look after him.” On November 14, Sivirkin's proposal was introduced to the Russian State Duma as a bill. The move ignited an intense debate on the RuNet, about both the proposed bill and abortion in general. Journalist Dmitri Bavyrin, in a Facebook post [ru] that attracted over 180 comments, provocatively voiced his support for the measure.
Чувства верующих, разумеется, идут лесом, ибо с такой формулировкой можно запрещать все что угодно (о пошива женских брюк до учебников по биологии). Но требование, повторюсь, правильное и давно назревшее. В нашей высокодуховной стране аборт средство контрацепции… А как иначе-то? Противозачаточные стоят денег, презервативы стоят денег, а тут разрезал за спасибо – и пошел. Спонсируемое государством детоубийство.
The feelings of believers, obviously, can go get stuffed. With that sort of justification, you can ban anything you want (from women's trousers to biology textbooks). But the demand, I repeat, is correct and long overdue. In our deeply spiritual country, abortion is a means of contraception… and how couldn't it be? Birth control costs money, condoms cost money, but they'll cut it out of you for nothing and it's gone. [It's] state-sponsored child murder.
Blogger and journalist Roman Fedoseev also weighed in [ru], proposing on his Facebook page an innovative, if slightly unpalatable, compromise:
С одной стороны, та женщина, которая делает аборт, тоже заплатила налог и внесла взнос в медстраховку. С другой — не понятно, почему остальные должны платить за какую-нибудь бедовую даму, которая сама себе назначила тариф “Безлимитный” и использует аборт в качестве контрацепции.
Поэтому мне представляется правильным такое решение. У каждого (у мужчин в том числе!) есть сертификат на один аборт в счет медстраховки: оступились, контрацепция подвела — всякое бывает. А дальше — извините, уже за отдельную плату.
On the one hand, the woman having an abortion has paid her taxes and paid her share into medical insurance. On the other hand, I don't understand why others should have to pay for some harlot, who's decided she's on some “unlimited” plan and uses abortion as a form of contraception.
Because of this I'm proposing a solution. Everyone (including men!) has a certificate for one abortion on their medical insurance, [if] you mess up, or the contraception fails—things happen. But after that—sorry, you have to pay for it yourself.
Fedoseev's proposal was met with mixed reactions. One user criticized what he saw as an attempt to limit “a basic medical service.” Others found it impractical or morally repugnant.
Max Avdeev: А может с раком тоже так? Или с другими болезнями? Второй раз заболел, ну сам дурак. Томографию только раз в жизни. Дикость какая рассматривать необходимость аборта как проступок. То есть для общества лучше проблемный сирота потом, чем недорогой аборт?
And would you do the same with cancer? Or with other illnesses? Get sick a second time and you're an idiot. Will we have one MRI scan a life? It's insane to view the inevitability of abortions as an offence. So it's better for society to have the problem of orphans than inexpensive abortions?
Olga Shantser: Стопроцентной гарантии не дает ни один контрацептив, а также еще, например, от изнасилования застраховаться нельзя.
There is no 100% guarantee for any form of contraceptive, and there is also no means of insuring against rape.
Запрещая аборты, все, кто ЗА, понимают же: аборты будут всегда, только уже нелегально делаться. И зачем?
— Алёна Попова (@alyonapopova) November 15, 2013
[When] forbidding abortion, everyone who supports the idea needs to understand this: there will always be abortions, they'll just be done illegally. And for what?
The debate emphasizes Russians’ ambivalent relationship with abortion. While very few want to see it banned outright, many are concerned about its continued prevalence in Russian society, ironically at a time when abortion is at its lowest level in 50 years. But perhaps more interestingly, in a country with extraordinarily low income tax rate, it shows Russians are beginning (1) to think of themselves as “taxpayers” and (2) to see social benefits less as entitlements, and more as privileges. While Sivirkin has framed his argument against state-funded abortions in religious terms, he may have found some unlikely allies in Russia's economic liberals.