Memorandum of the Russian Campaign of the Year 2011In February 2012 prime minister and then elected president of Russia Vladimir Putin signed the decree which bans three of remaining four so called social indications to perform a pregnancy termination after twelfth week of gestation. It is impossible to prove the remaining indication, namely rape within the period of ten weeks. Thus, there are no longer social indication for induced abortion in Russia. With this decree the demographic pronatalism of post-Yeltsin Russian government obtained a completed shape of harmonized stick and carrot policy. The restricting developments started probably right after the adoption of the most liberal ever abortion regulating law in 1993. They were empowered in 1998, and started to take shape in 2006 with the governmental announcement of the so call mother capital (carrot), followed by declaration of Russian orthodox church's population policy to protect traditional family, unborn life, etc. (stick).
Below I am depicting the struggle against this policy which took place in the past (2011) year. Although within this period I had been formerly affiliated with an organization involved into these affair, everything written below belongs to my own personal experience, and all value judgments and opinions belong to me only.
BackgroundBirth control has long been a mass practice in Russia. A rather long woman's fertile life span together with a small desired family size made a woman avoid unwanted pregnancy or, if a pregnancy still occurred, resort to induced abortion. Deliberately controlled Russian fertility is an undeniable fact. Fertility decline here has a long history, and since about mid 1960's, with exception of a few years in the 1980's, it is below replacement level. There are three means to reduce fecundity potential to observed low fertility: contraception, abortion, and abstinence. The Soviet period was a realm of abortion, some authors even describe reproductive behavior during Soviet time as “abortion culture”. The situation is changing after the collapse of the USSR. Below I am briefly describing areas of abortion and contraception and obviously not of abstinence.
AbortionIn November 1920, Soviet Russia became the first country in the world, which decriminalized abortions. In 1936, the USSR banned abortions again, allowing them only on ill-health and medical indications. The ban was called off in 1955, and no significant changes were introduced in the relevant USSR legislation since then. Abortion on request was legally permitted up to 12 weeks of gestation, and after 12 weeks it could be performed only for medical reasons. In 1987, the USSR Ministry of Health authorized an abortion during the period up to 28 weeks of pregnancy under a range of non-medical conditions: (1) woman’s or her husband’s imprisonment; (2) husband’s severe disability; (3) having a child with a disability since childhood; (4) husband’s death during pregnancy; (5) divorce during pregnancy; (6) decision of a court depriving of parental rights; (7) pregnancy resulted from rape; (8) attained family size (more than three children); (9) woman’s or her husband’s unemployment or job loss; and (10) woman’s refugee status. Since 2003 this set was dramatically reduced from thirteen to four items: (1) restriction or deprivation of parental rights; (2) woman’s imprisonment; (3) husband’s disability or his death during pregnancy; (4) rape. And since 2012 rape remains the last resort.
According to official statistics (which proved to be complete) in 1990, 4.1 million abortions were registered in Russia. The average annual rate of decline of the number of abortions per 1000 women aged 15-49 years for the period 1990-2010 in Russia was six per cent. In the first half the period it was faster, and it slowed then. Russia today continues to maintain world leadership in terms of abortion (among the countries having established abortion statistics). In 2010 Russia reported 1.2 million abortions (in 2011 – 1.1 million). The mean age at abortion is more than 29 years and steadily increasing, i.e., unlike in Western Europe, most abortions are made by women over the age of 30 years, who already have children. Proportion of teenagers in total abortions is visibly less than 10 per cent.
ContraceptionThe data on contraception is less reliable. Ministry of Health (MoH) collects data on two methods: pill and IUD. In 2010, twelve per cent of Russian women (aged 15-49) used the pill, while in 1990 this percentage was slightly less than two. Russia has no domestic production of pills. They are all imported, and therefore the prices are relatively high. IUD in the late Soviet Union was the most common modern method. Its use dropped down from 17 to 13 per cent. Since IUD and pills are mutually exclusive they have the property of additivity, i.e. ¼ of women uses two modern methods.
There are no any special laws regulating use of contraception in Russia, and thus no legal barrier exists to using it. The only contraceptive method, subject to some legal regulation, is sterilization. Sterilization can be performed to a Russian citizen, no younger than 35 years of age, or having at least two children, upon receiving his/her written request. For medical indications, sterilization is performed irrespective of the person’s age or number of children. A friend of mine (a doctor) said that there is no medical indications for sterilization.
The data from the national sample surveys allow to estimate the so called unmet need in contraception, i.e., the proportion of fertile couples, who do not wish to have a child in the near future, and do not practice any means of pregnancy prevention. Current unmet need in Russia is 13 per cent. The overall use of contraception also comes from surveys, it is about 77 per cent (of women at age 15-49). This level of contraceptive prevalence is similar to that typical of western countries such as France, the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, or USA. The most popular method is condom (27 per cent), the second – IUD (21), the third – periodic abstinence (14), then go pill (13), withdrawal (12), and sterilization (2). About a fifth of all users employ two methods or more. Young women are more likely to use condom or pills; IUD is more common among women aged 30 to 44; and after the age 40, there is a significant proportion of women who tend to rely on traditional methods.
Recent studies revealed that inadequate use of a method together with ineffective method mix are major sources of higher prevalence of abortion.
Political U-turnRussia has changed its stance in relation to family planning over time more than once. In the early 1990s, the wave of democratic reforms in Russia helped to adopt the federal target program “Family Planning”. In 1994, this program gained the support of the President of Russia (Decree No. 1696, August 18, 1994) and was integrated into the program called “Children of Russia”. The program “Family Planning” was designed to fundamentally change societal attitudes towards human reproductive rights and to create conditions for their realization. For the implementation of this program, the Russian Ministry of Health established a large network of centers for family planning and reproduction. Many professionals attended special advanced courses and received extensive training in related areas. A great deal of effort was expended to improve sexual culture of the Russian population; expert groups developed programs of sexual education. Male homosexuality was decriminalized in 1993, female homosexuality had never been banned. These activities encountered a strong resistance from some groups of the society. The Russian State Duma (formed mainly by communists at that time) supported the campaign against the program, and its funding was excluded from the state budget in 1998. Programs of sexual education were never introduced in schools.
The official position of the Government of Russia on the right to family planning and reproductive choice as well as to safe, comfortable, and joyful sexual life has always been and remains ambiguous. Two decades ago, at the historical turning point the segments of society holding the traditionalist and fundamentalist views were either invisible or even non-existent. Today, they constitute an influential social force, which stirs up negative associations with and agitates against family planning. The myth that birth control is synonymous to low fertility and that broader access to family planning services inevitably leads to fertility reduction has become rather widespread. This myth has not only become part of folk common sense, but also has successfully penetrated the level of decision makers (if not vice versa). Many of the centers for family planning and reproduction created in the 1990s are gradually being closed due to lack of funding. Furthermore, by spreading fake information about abortion and its consequences for health as well as arguing about its moral unacceptability, the Government was moving towards the restriction of access to abortion. At the same time, the promotion of alternatives to abortion, i.e. contraception, is remaining very limited.
Levada center monitors replies to the question: do you agree with ban on abortion? (per cent of answers)
|Completely or mostly agree||8||9||12||12||14||15||15||16|
|General ban with exceptions for medical indications||13||14||14||20||16||16||20||25|
|Completely or mostly disagree||59||60||65||61||62||61||57||48|
|No definite answer||20||17||10||7||8||8||8||11|
The Orthodox Church agitates extensively against advances in reproductive health and rights, it successfully penetrated the public health decision-making process. The Foundation for Socio-Cultural Initiatives, headed by the then First Lady of Russia, conducts an annual campaign called “Give me life!” aiming at protecting unborn children; it is promoted as a week against abortion, which is in fact a week of ban on abortion (however a ban does not work as usual). All these trends do not contribute to the improvement of reproductive health in Russia.
Data and methods ;)I was participating in the depicting below events, thus my impressions are certainly subjective and personal. For some time during the period I was a coordinator of prochoice coalition “Bunch of Rowan”, which has been established by Russian association “Population and Development” (formerly Russian Family Planning Association) to support reproductive and sexual health and rights. Yet I did some precautions to reduce the bias:
I have built a time line to restore the sequence of events (available in Russian),
I also listed certain persons who somehow participated in the events, not the fighters on either side, but those whom prochoice wished to involve or use as an ally. Some participants of the events strongly opposed of publishing their names, so I do not give a link to the list,
I have carefully studied media monitoring which one of the prochoicers performed during the campaign, although it deserves more in depth study.
All the above stemmed from exchange of the prochoice activists' opinions mailed to a Google group and reported facts, which took place during campaign and continues now.
- Cyril (Gundyayev), patriarch of RoC
- Svetlana Medvedeva, the first lady
- Dmitriy Medvedev, president of Russia
- Yuryev Evgeniy, president's advisor
- Anton Belyakov, Federal Duma deputy (Just Russia)
- Yelena Mizulina, Federal Duma deputy (Just Russia), story driver
- Valeriy Draganov, Federal Duma deputy (United Russia)
- Mironov, chairman of Just Russia, chairman of Council of Federation
- Olga Borzova, chairwoman of Health Care Committee, focal person of the story
- Ostanina Nina, Federal Duma deputy (Communist Party)
- Pia Locatelli, member of the European Parliament, president of Socialist International Women
- Marlène Haas, secretary general of Socialist International Women
- Neil Datta, Secretary, European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development
- Valentina Shirokova, head, Department of medical care for children and obstetric services, Ministry of Health and Social Development
- Lyudmila Stebenkova, deputy of the Moscow City Duma, chairwoman of the Commisson on Health Care and Public Health
- Nikolai Gerasimenko, Duma deputy, medical professional
- Vanda Nowicka, Polish social activist, feminist, politician, trained classical scholar, president of the Federation for Women and Family Planning, Member of the Polish Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the Sejm of the seventh term.
- Katerina Nevedalova, member of Europian Parliament
- Marina Davidashvili, senior policy officer, European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development
- Valentina Cherevatenko, Chairman-Coordinator of the regional Women of Don union
- Lyubov Yerofeyeva, director of Russian association Population and Development
- Irina Siluyanova, head, chair of bioethics, Russian State Medical University, since 1998 to present she directs scientific activities of Church and Community Council on Biomedical Ethics of Moscow Patriarchate.
- Dimitriy (Pershin), hieromonk, expert of the Synodal Department for Youth Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate, senior lecturer in biomedical ethics at Russian State Medical University, member of the editorial board of textbooks and teaching materials for school course "Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture".
- Saliya Murzabayeva, Duma deputy (health care committee)
- O'Brien Jon, president, Catholics for choice
- on abortion,
- on large families,
- on orphans, and
- on the legislative work relating to the protection of family and childhood
- For Ministry of Health: to introduce an internal instruction to make pregnancy saving a priority for a physician, prohibiting a medical initiative for its termination, make a pregnant woman acquainted with all the negative consequences and risks of an abortion.
- Following examples of developed countries introduce the mandatory two-week waiting period after registration of the signed informed consent to terminate pregnancy. The document signed by the woman before committing abortion should describe in plain language what happens to the fetus and the woman with an abortion, and should contain full information about the dangers and the risks associated with abortion.
- Each maternity hospital should establish a crisis pregnancy center staffed with psychologists and representatives of traditional religions. Each woman wishing to terminate a pregnancy should attend the center for an interview.
- Build a network of shelters for single mothers who find themselves in difficult situations. The state could provide the space and resources to create such centers, and the Church - to help in the preparation of their employees, especially charity volunteers.
- Delete abortion (except for cases of direct threat to a woman life) from the obligatory health insurance plans.
- Exclude a possibility to commit abortion at the expense of taxpayers, especially of the principal opponents of abortion.
- Introduce the materials that explain the development of a child in the womb in the educational programs of secondary schools.
- Provide state support for mass media campaigns to condemn abortion, explaining its negative effects, promotion of motherhood, responsible fatherhood, and large families.
These directives began implementing in April. (1) President Medvedev's advisor Yuryev declared the division of NGO into two big classes: useful and harmful. Publication on the web site of Ministry of Sports and Tourism (a copy on radio Moscow Echo site) of "The Guidelines for the prevention and countering extremism among young people" prepared by Minister of Interior and Federal Security Service preceded Yuryev declaration. Guidelines spoke directly of subversive activities of foreign sponsored NGOs. (2) The Fund for Social and Cultural Initiatives, chaired by First Lady of the Russian Federation S. V. Medvedeva, announced a campaign "Give me life!" (anti-abortion week), aimed at strengthening the family, the preservation of family values and traditions. (3) Deputy Belyakov registered a bill restricting abortion advertising.
In mid April Hungary announced constitutional amendment claiming the life before birth. A week later, Mizulina presented her draft law “On Amending the Federal Law On Basic Guarantees of the Rights of the Child in the Russian Federation and Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation” in order to strengthen the guarantees of the right to life. Her bill was not published on Duma site, i.e., it formally did not exist, Mizulina used it as a trial balloon. It was not published ever since, and became known only from her own words at a press-conference, and in a form of a Draganov's bill, which appeared in June.
May was a quiet month, antichoicers revealed no visible activities. Several media published soothing messages and experts' comments on abortion, its declining prevalence in Russia, overall harmless consequences to health, etc. (Demoscope Weekly, NEJM, BMJ). Polish planned parenthood published an estimate of the size of Polish abortion black market ($95 mln). Likely, at this time Mizulina understood that her bill would not pass.
On the 1st of June Draganov officially submitted his bill which was almost totally the bill of Mizulina (which followed Patriarch's proposals) with addition of yet another restriction – written permission of a husband for a married woman. After registration, i.e., publication of the bill on Duma web site he immediately withdrew it, but next day it appeared on Duma web site again. On June 27 Duma rejected to consider this bill, and after consultations with Duma committee on health Draganov was made withdraw it again. An historical value of the bill is that it documented a way of antichoice thinking, and its arguments. An explanatory note to the draft contains a set of obscurantist stereotypes and fake statistics.
In June onlinepetition.ru collected about nine hundred signatures under the appeal to the chairman of the Just Russia party S. Mironov, appealing him to pay attention to his socialist party member (Mizulina) promoting medieval obscurantist bill. Antichoice meeting in Moscow urged to picket the maternity hospitals (which perform abortions as well). The New York Times drew attention that Russians Adopt U.S. Tactics in Opposing Abortion. Belorussian media informed about a pilot project of Ministry of health and Church in abortion. On June 17 Russia voted against the resolution of the UN Human Rights Council aimed at the eradication of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Later in July 2011 Russia made the U.S. ban adoptions of Russian children by American same-sex couples. June 18 Moscow and June 25 Saint-Petersburg witnessed the first scarce prochoice pickets. The enthusiastic participants became a core of Russian prochoice.
In the UK there were concerns that faith-based groups with strong anti-abortion positions could step in and win contracts to provide the counseling in place of the charities. Russian Association “Population and Development” carried out a training for journalists and activists, which coincided with Moscow Demographic Summit of World Congress of Families ended in failure since non of declared VIP guests attended the event. Antichoice declared a launch of women's health clinics that don't provide abortions.
I suppose that in May-June Russian antichoice realized that in an open air it has no chance to succeed and decided to start playing a more opaque game, thus it bet on Mizulina as more experienced and wily politician, i.e., since that time she became a major antichoice visible force.
On Tuesday, July 5 Duma committee on health rejected almost all Patriarch's proposals submitted by Mizulina in a form of amendments to Putin's bill (substitution of existing health law). From the draft committee kept only a delay before performing abortion, but reduced it to 48 hours (a week was supposed). It seems like a victory, but it was not. Antichoice did not come to terms with defeat at all. Its reaction was really quick. By the end of the week, on Friday MoH and ROC made up one more agreement. The agreement established an expert group to resolve conflicts between the committee and the church. The group consisted of eight clergymen and two secular but publicly unknown experts, no one presented prochoice side. Creation of the group moved the discussion from an open air into stuffy Duma corridors, beyond public access. The existence of the group was unknown till September. Later prochoice attempts to be heard were broken by the absence of listeners and inability to establish a contact with them. The established group was absolutely beyond discussion, its only purpose was to push antichoice amendments through the committee. No one knows how, but it did it by mid September, violating Duma's rules and regulations.
As usually July and August were quiet and peaceful season of holidays. Catholic lane supported Mizulina's amendments, half-dozen of retired demonstrated in Moscow underground with an idiotic slogan: don't know what to do – give a birth. Associated Press published an article about Medvedevs' (president and his wife) support to antichoice. By the end of July Breivik's social doctrine became known, strangely it coincides with ROC's one in many clauses. Nashi (Ours), pro-governmental youth movement implements some points of Breivik's program, namely procreation camps. President Medvedev announced the restoration of the institution of military clergy, which coincided with the announced in the US free contraception (its inclusion into insurance plans). Peter and Theuronia Fund announced its intention to open 30 ROC's medical centers in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.
On August 3 President Medvedev set up the task for Duma to approve the law on health care by the end of the year. In current Russia it is not absurd for an executive to rule a lawmaker, on the contrary it is a norm and probably the kernel of power vertical. It was probably the focal point of the story. Abortion clause was not the only and not the major point of objections against the bill. So, Duma was made reconsider the law that many expected to postpone till new Duma and new president. Prochoice appeared in troubled waters of rush and confusion, while antichoice has got an advantage. On August 11 Borzova gave a press-conference and said that she is under tough pressure from ROC and government.
Next day after Medvedev's announcement Novgorog governor reported about his recommendation to all local medical facilities and all doctors to redirect women seeking abortion to a psychologist. It was not a single example of administrative zeal, but it is an exclusion since only in this case it received a well argumented reply from Nina Ostanina, MP, Communist Party. Nina Ostanina became the only political figure in Russia who clearly and openly opposed governmental and ROC attack on reproductive rights. Later on she introduced the coalition amendments to health law in Duma.
To support Borzova and empower rational attitudes of the society “Bunch of Rowan” held a press-conference on a general topic of Reproductive rights in jeopardy. This event was followed by few but adequate publications in media, including extremely widespread Metro (newspaper). The next coalition press-conference took place on September 2, before days of joint actions against obscurantism for free motherhood (Sept 3-5). Joint actions included meetings in Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Perm (Russia), Kiev (Ukraine), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Tbilisi (Georgia), viewing and discussion of the Romanian movie 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (in the School of Cinema Club Rodchenko), Saint-Petersburg - Moscow teleconference with Mizulina, letter to Russian ambassador in Warsaw, letter of eleven European women, MPs to SocIntern and S. Mironov, etc. The European female MPs letter was followed by a letter of President of Socialist Women International Pia Locatelli and SIW Secretary General Marlène Haas. Both Mironov and Mizulina were forced to respond to these letters. The answers were evasive, they argued that Mizulina is long fighter for women's rights, the letters discredited them were instigated by enemies of Just Russia Party, and were part of the inter-party struggle on the eve of elections.
Later Neil Datta addressed to WHO with request to evaluate Russian novations in estimating abortion as harmful and morally inacceptable. Despite safe abortion is one of fundamentals of WHO concept of reproductive health WHO did not reply. On September 10 Radio Liberty aired a special broadcast on abortion debate in Russia which appeared prochoice since no antichoicer came to discuss the issue. On September 13 Parliament of Finland has requested the Government of Finland to evaluate a size of additional burden on the national health system which might appear in case of significant restrictions on abortion in Russian Federation. In mid September Nina Ostanina agreed to introduce in Duma the amendments prepared by “Bunch of Rowan” (free contraception and sexuality education in schools).
On September 19 Borzova chaired the meeting of her committee and the group of experts which supposed to lift up contradiction between ROC proposals and deputies' common sense. It seemed that deputies were able to defend only inclusion of abortion into obligatory insurance plan. The fact that ROC does not intend to introduce total ban on abortion, but just make a women pay for it, is remaining a mystery even now. I can not understand this position. However the result of the meeting meant total prochoice defeat. Shirokova, deputy MoH made a threatening statement at the meeting, she said: all reasonable proposals that are impossible to prescribe in the basic law, will be reflected in the relevant internal MoH instructions. It is difficult to affect more or less transparent Duma processes, but to affect something internal is near impossible.
Discussion in media continued, Izvestia published a strange interview with Moscow deputy Stebenkova, where she said that Moscow-city will prevent unwanted pregnancy with contraception. EU told the Irish Government to take firm action to legislate for abortion. “Bunch of Rowan” launched its web site. A number of NGO wrote to Duma deputy Gerasimenko appealing to reject Mizulina's amendments. MoH official addressing to regular congress Mother and Child said that MoH works to save each and every pregnancy.
The meeting devoted to women died of criminal abortions took place in Moscow on last day of September. The event had been strongly supported by Moscow LGBT community. At the meeting LGBT participants had been able to deploy their (usually forbidden) rainbow flag. On the very next day prochoicers supported LGBT meeting, but since gay banners had been prohibited by police the meeting appeared mostly prochoice. In the beginning of October good news arrived from Poland where anti-clerical Palikot's Movement received 10 percent of the vote and won 40 seats in the Sejm. After that victory Wanda Nowicka (head of Polish planned parenthood - Federację na rzecz Kobiet i Planowania Rodziny) became Sejm vice chairwoman.
On October 10 Katerina Nevedalova, Marina Davidashvili, and Lyubov Yerofeyeva had a meeting with working group on abortions (Siluyanova, Letkova, Pershin). At the meeting antichoicers seemed scared by the events' development. In about a week The Financial Times published interviews with a couple of Russian amateur demographers who had fed their audience with regular antichoice myths on abortion/birth substitutability. The FT never published a denial message swiftly prepared by The Bunch of Rowan and submitted by Neil Datta. It reflects the situation of global pro and anti choice struggle, and opponents' combat techniques. About this time antichoice side issued San Jose Articles, and prochoice issued International Initiative Calls on Russian Parliament to Reject Anti-Choice Measures, a letter to Russian ruling class, signed by 57 various organizations and 37 persons individually.
October 20, a belt of the Blessed Virgin Mary arrived from Greece with great fanfare. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin personally went to meet the artifact at the airport of the former imperial capital city of Saint-Petersburg. The device is believed to improve female fecundity, and up to one million believers in Moscow only attended the church where it was exhibited. For weeks the nation watched the enchanting demonstration of orthodox obscurantism.
On October 21-28 Vologda (Northern Russian city) hosted a seminar for psychologists and gynecologists on pro-abortion consultations with presentations of Krasnoyrask experience (actually the experience presented nonsense of these consultations). The very fact of holding of this seminar shows that the government dealt with the issue yet under public discussion as with already decided. On October 21 MP Murzabayeva said that crisis pregnancy centers will help to improve the demographic situation. Previous to this announcement we supposed Murzabayeva was our good friend, ally, and prochoice advocate. At the same time the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health has presented a report to the UN that unequivocally tells governments they must remove laws that criminalize abortion.
On October 24 Duma passed the second reading of the law, and on November 1 it approved the general health law with a part of antichoice amendments. On November 10 President Medvedev declared that the state will rely on ROC, since ROC helps tremendous numbers of our people not only to find their place in life but also to understand what would seem to be pretty simple things, for example, such things as what it means to be Russian, what the mission of our people is, what made our nation great and gave it a unique identity in a definite period and what, at some point, gave a lot of trials to our nation and the Orthodox Church. The statement looks like a declaration of theocracy in Russia.
The struggle had somehow continued till Medvedev signed the law on November 22. Bunch of Rowan sent its amendments to Nina Ostanina. Huffington Post published Jon O'Brien's From Russia Without Love. In November 25 The Church Herald published Mizulina report about her antichoice activities. On the day of Bolshevik Revolution (Nov 7) feminist punk group Pussy Riot issued their debut album Kill a sexist. But it is already another story.
SidesDefinitely current Russian society is more complex than preceding it Soviet one. Various social forces had been involved in the depicted above struggle. Taking into account their relation to free and safe abortion, I classify them into two forces: pro and anti choice.
AntichoiceThe collapse of the Soviet Union terminated the decades of state atheist policy in the countries of the former USSR. The first Russian president Boris Yeltsin suffered of a lack of uniting national ideology and repeatedly addressed his demand for such an idea to his team. During his presidency ROC obtained a good financial resource – tax free trade of alcohol and tobacco. Yeltsin never had exclusive relations with ROC, he used four folded structure ROC, Russian Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as traditional confessions, and their leaders equally appeared in formal ceremonies. Putin changed this situation in favor of ROC, and Medvedev made ROC a leading denomination in this country with exceptionally close contacts and links with the very top of Russian government. As I have already mentioned in 1998 Yeltzin's liberalization stopped, and clericalization slowly started. ROC commenced its penetration into state structure from two major sectors: education and health, recently it added military to these activities. In health sector ROC started with agreement with local authorities and first provided care for terminal patients. Then it occupied some room in health facilities and used them for preaching. It seems that no objections from health professionals were ever registered. Till recently ROC did not formulate its position on abortion and contraception, likely it did not have one. Grass root priests even provided consultations about methods of contraception. The first antichoice steps ROC did indirectly through associated nationalist NGOs. The growth of ROC's influence was so great that it became profitable for clerks to cooperate with church bureaucracy. This cooperation became an advantage in promotion through the ranks. However, ROC open support of irrational behavior will likely undermine the loyalty of medical community. The first signs are already appearing first of all from abortion providers who under permanent pressure of ROC's controlled NGO activists (like Life Guardians, for instance).
To implement its proposals ROC selected MP Mizulina, which was an excellent choice. Likely, Draganov tried to compete with her for the position but failed, this episode remains murky and inexplicable. Mizulina is a MP since 1995 (the 2nd Duma), she was a member of Yabloko (Apple) and Union of Right Forces fractions. These parties are considered democratic in Russia, they represent a middle class. Yabloko even has a gender section. Mizulina had a reputation of gender rights advocate and almost feminist. Her reputation and correct determination of a period of decisive action (summer) excluded gender rights activists and established Russian feminists, for instance, Consortium of women NGOs, from the debate. They could not imagine Mizulina was promoting antiwomen legislation. Some of them continue to think so even after these restrictions on access to abortion, and suppose to work with her on the equal gender tights law.
ProchoiceThe opposite side seems less effective or solid. Only Russian Association Population and Development has its own office, which was used to produce banners and other materials for meetings and events. Bunch of Rowan despite it is more or less formal coalition, has its own charter and membership, was unable to manage its members due to lack of means of mobilization except for good personal relations. On the other hand, pure enthusiastic adherence and devotion to human rights appeared the major advantage of prochoice side. It included a number of half informal workers', communist, Trotskyist, anarchist and other leftist groups, some semi-organized groups from medical community opposed to MoH, feminist and women's rights activists established a group Fight abortions not women, few persons from scientific demography, and LGBT. Oddly enough but medical community officially (MoH) did not support the struggle for reproductive rights, albeit it is its direct duty.
International support obtained from various sources mentioned above was more inspiring for us, who lived in this fight day and night, rather than instrumental or able to change anything within closed hermetically and inert machine of Russian government. However, I wrote this memo in English mainly in order to share our experience with other reproductive health advocates, for those who is dealing or will face similar challenges in their own country. My message for those readers: international support helps emotionally, but do not rely on it – your nation is your sole responsibility.
ConclusionI am not sure that fundamentalist reaction is a new global trend, but it is definitely clear for the region of the former communist countries in Europe.
Since the mid 1960's all abortion's indicators in Russia have been steadily declining, which no doubt points to the improvements of reproductive health. However, the communist party paid no attention to the dirty issue, unlike, ROC, that appeared from nowhere and took the place of leading and guiding force of Russian post-communist society. Since major success took place after the collapse of communism, ROC call it moral revival and attributed it to itself. Situation is probably common for many religious bodies survived communism. Polish authors wrote a lot about changing role of kościół and its position in the local abortion debate. ROC provides research grants in search of evidence and other proves of its leadership in decline of abortions. Even at remaining but deteriorating level of rational reasoning of current society it is very difficult to prove that black is white, and white is black. It is difficult to understand that your opponent is truly irrational. This fact deserves deeper study, but you have to accept it now.
Oddly enough, but support to fundamentalist obscurantism came from the most unexpected source, Russian MoH. Ministry's official seems sincerely consider declining together numbers of births and abortions as manifested deterioration of fecundability or ability to conceive. This misconception by the way has caused growth in supply of assisted reproductive technologies despite very limited demand for them. Then ambiguously, with one hand ROC is trying to attribute success in improving reproductive health, and with another (more natural) to destroy these success. However, unlike MoH ROC will not be responsible for the results to come. I am one hundred per cent sure that had ROC no MoH support it failed totally with its attempt to restrict abortion or never started an attempt.
About a year after these events, at the end of July 2012 I remain unsure about who had won that battle. Taking into account the weights and expenses of both sides, I am inclined to think that we have drawn. A mountain effort of huge state and hardcore orthodox fanatics gave birth to a mouse couple of amendments: waiting period (which was already a practice before – the time to perform analyses, etc.) and the right of a doctor to refuse to perform abortion. The latter right lives together with the duty of a clinic or other medical facility to perform abortion according to a woman will (during twelve weeks of gestation). The several dozen of young inexperienced ladies and their scarce allies might be satisfied with their accomplishment.
Thus, the coalition did successfully. Our major gain is disclosure of clandestine plans of our opponents, who wished to change the conditions of RHSR and women's rights underhand, moreover the most odious intentions had been destroyed. The more open the discussion the more chances you have to win it, and vice versa: the more hidden your opponent, the more it under a carpet, the less is your chance to win.
Written by Boris Denisov,
former coordinator of Russian Prochoice Coalition Bunch of Rowan,
(completed in November 2012)