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Russia

New Anti-Abortion Movement Emerges In Russia

Rising religious objections to the practice come 93 years after the Soviet Union became the first country to legalize abortions. Today, they are still legal - and free.

Norilsk maternity hospital
Norilsk maternity hospital
Ekakterina Borisenkova and Ivan Tyazhlov

SAMARA — Legislators from the Samara region in southwestern Russia would like to end federal funding for abortions, saying that providing them under the national health care law forces those who oppose them for religious reasons to bankroll “baby killing.”

The Samara delegation has introduced legislation in the federal Duma assembly that would remove elective abortions from the list of procedures covered by federal health insurance. It would have no effect on cases of rape or in situations when abortion is medically necessary. And it wouldn’t limit access to elective abortions for women, but they would be required to pay for the procedures themselves.

Abortions are currently legal — and free — for any woman up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. And abortions are legal for pregnancies between 12 and 22 weeks of gestation in cases of rape, and at any time during pregnancy when an abortion is deemed medically necessary. Minors would also still have access to free abortions.

The Soviet Union was the first country to legalize abortion, in 1920. The Soviet government then re-criminalized abortion from 1936 to 1955 — at which point abortion was once again made legal. Russian abortion laws have become stricter in the past decade, with a 2012 law limiting abortions between 12 and 22 weeks to cases of rape or medical necessity. At the same time, the number of abortions in Russia has been steadily declining, with less than a quarter as many abortions performed in 2011 as in 1990.

"Black market" fears

The bill in question is sponsored by Dmitrii Sivirkin, a legislator from Samara. He said that the initiative would relieve religious believers from “participating in baby killing” simply by paying taxes. “It is a first step towards explaining to girls that our government does not want to be killing its citizens,” Sivirkin says. “If a woman wants to have an abortion, than let her go ahead with her moral failure, and pay for it herself.”

One Samara lawmaker who first voted against the initiative, before then supporting it, cites the need to reduce the number of abortions in Russia. But he also expresses concern that it would increase the number of “black market” abortions.

Predicatably, the Samara leader of the Orthodox church sent a letter to other lawmakers, urging them to support the initiative.

Those opposed to the proposal include Irina Skupova, local head of the Human Rights office, who says the proposal violates the human rights provisions of the Russian constitution. The regional Ministry for Family Policies has also spoken out against the proposal. “All proposed laws should above all be meant to solve a problem. In our opinion, a change in the federal law would lead to an increase in the number of abortions,” says Marina Sidukhina, the ministry’s spokeswoman. According to official statistics, abortions in the Samara region — like elsewhere in Russia — are steadily declining.

The current ruling centrist party United Russia so far has been silent about the proposed law, meaning that without a party line to toe, presumably each Duma representative will vote only from his or her convictions.

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