Russia’s war on Ukraine is proving to be no obstacle for the battle to promote “traditional values” – the conservative social program and messaging that Vladimir Putin has long placed at the heart of his domestic ideological agenda. The latest part of that agenda has now emerged, with the state making cautious moves towards restricting women’s right to abortions. An initiative over the summer to take abortion services out of the country’s compulsory health insurance failed, but the authorities are now preparing to ban private clinics from carrying out the procedure.
- Regional administrations in Crimea and Kursk this week announced that private clinics had voluntarily said they will refuse to perform abortions. That follows similar moves in August and September by clinics in Tatarstan and Chelyabinsk. Such “voluntary decisions” were made at the authorities’ request. Soon, though, it looks like a formal ban will be implemented across the entire country after the State Duma vowed to impose a total ban on abortions in private clinics by spring 2024.
- In other regions, the authorities are battling against what they call “abortion propaganda.” In Mordovia and Tver, regional laws have been passed in recent months that threaten fines for “encouraging pregnant women to have abortions.” This week Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, hailed the example set in these regions and urged federal lawmakers to introduce similar legislation nationwide.
- President Vladimir Putin has also recently spoken of the harm done by abortions. “Of course, abortions are a serious problem,” he said at a Nov. 3 meeting with members of the Civic Chamber. “The question is what to do. Ban the sale of abortion drugs? Or improve the socio-economic situation in the country, raise the level of well-being, real wages, social services and support for young families?”
- The Russian authorities believe increasing numbers of abortions are one reason behind Russia’s demographic problem. The latest official estimates suggest that by 2030 Russia’s population will fall by 3.1 million people. In a worst-case scenario, by 2100 Russia's population could drop by 25-40%.
- Nonetheless, the authorities are reluctant to impose an active ban on all abortions. It’s not just because these kinds of restrictions have done nothing to ease demographic problems elsewhere. The reality is that even after a decade of conservative state propaganda, Russians generally support a woman’s right to abortion. State pollster VTsIOM carried out a survey in summer of 2022 which found that 51% of Russians believe that the government should not regulate abortion at all. Some 36% agreed that a woman should have the right to choose an abortion in any circumstances.
Why the world should care
Propaganda is not omnipotent and works slowly. Despite everything that is happening, Russia still remains largely a European country when it comes to values.