Pro-life Propaganda for Pro-choice Proletariat

The legalization of abortion in the 1920’s led to 55 out of every 100 pregnancies to be terminated. During Stalin’s tenure, abortion was banned in an attempt to encourage an increase in the workforce. In 1955, the Soviet policy toward abortion became very complex. Government officials and doctors grew concerned about the negative effects of illegal abortion practices, which were often done in less than desirable settings. This led to the Decree on the Repeal of the Ban on Abortions in November of 1955. The state legalized abortions so that if a woman truly desired an abortion, it could be done in a safer setting with less chance of harming her body if she wished to have children later on. The state hoped that if a woman didn’t want to have a child at a certain time, maybe she would have one later. The state was essentially pro-choice in its practice.

 

“Stop! Now abortion seems necessary. But remember, it might forever deprive you of the happiness of motherhood.”

The interesting part of this policy shift comes in the state’s real attitude. The Communist party launched a massive antiabortion campaign in an attempt to promote a stable, nuclear family structure of a father, mother, and children. They did so by telling of the emotional and health benefits of motherhood. The above propaganda poster tells a mother that if she stomps out the life within her, she will be unhappy. Other posters tell women that they will be lonely without husbands and children if they procure abortions. Another tactic used by the communists was convincing fathers that it was their duty to protect the life of their child and wife. A piece of propaganda called For you, Comrade Men, attacked a pro-choice sentiment widely used in the 21st century:

Sometimes a husband tries to avoid any discussion about the artificial termination of a pregnancy, giving his wife the “right” to decide this herself. This behavior can never be justified. Who, if not the husband, the father of the future child, should protect the health and life of a wife, the happiness of the family?

This aligns with a strong pro-life argument that the decision of the unborn child’s life rests in the father’s hands just as much, if not more, as in the mother’s hands. If the father and mother stay together to choose life, they are more likely to raise the child together. The tract also includes harsh language against abortion, calling it a “gross violation of the laws of nature”. This is a complete 180 degree turn of the attitude towards abortion during Lenin’s time. However, while it seems nice that the state wanted to prevent unprofessional and harmful abortions, it only enabled women to get abortions, whereas a harmful abortion would deter them from seeking one in the first place. If the state was truly antiabortion, they should have just continued the ban.

Russia A History. Freeze.

L. Aristov, “K vam, tovarishchi muzhchiny,” 1962. Russian State Library in Moscow, Graphics Division, Inv # 9325.

Sbornik zakonov SSSR i ukazov prezidiuma verkhovnogo soveta SSSR, 1938-1975, volume 3 (Moscow: Izvestiia sovetov deputatov trudiashchikhsia SSSR, 1975), 306. Supreme Soviet of the USSR, 1955, No. 22, Article 425

Repealing the Ban on AbortionAmy E. Randall (Santa Clara University)

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8 thoughts on “Pro-life Propaganda for Pro-choice Proletariat

  1. Very informative post! I talked a little about the antiabortion campaign in my post on 1950s Soviet women. On one hand abortions were riskier during the ban, but at least they weren’t using propaganda and scare tactics so women would feel guilty about it, so I kind of understand why you say they should have just continued the ban. With the pamphlets, posters, and movies trying to convince women not to get an abortion they were not proving to really be pro-choice. Good post!

  2. This is very relevant to what is going on in the US today. There is still a pro-life, pro-choice argument going on and you see it in the elections as well. The numbers in this is what surprised me with 55 out of 100 pregnancies being terminated during that time period. Cool post!

  3. Interesting post. I think what you hit on most is that while the Soviet Union seems to be progressive toward certain issues (especially women’s issues) on paper, the narrative used in propaganda contradicts their stance. In this case, women seemingly are allowed to make the choice about whether or not to abort their pregnancies. In reality, patriarchal sentiments and traditional roles for women are reinforced in the propaganda narrative. This reminds me of the current climate in the United States, where women are supposed to have the right to choose but are increasingly disallowed access to abortions (or are discouraged from procuring one) via clinic de-funding, forced ultrasounds, etc

  4. Really great post. Issues like this are seen all over the world throughout time. No one in America today could say this isn’t similar to what has happened/is happening in our politics today. It’s important to look at such topics from different perspectives and in different situations.

  5. This is a really interesting topic. I think it’s especially interesting that the propaganda frames abortion as a direct affront to patriarchy by taking decisions away from men, which is of course a very different way of talking about the topic from what we see today. It really shows how the accepted narrative about abortion has changed dramatically as women have gained status.

  6. This post was very interesting. In one instance you have a state that is very progressive and level headed about the decision making process regarding abortion, and then in another instance you have propaganda that almost state that the choice of abortion should not be for the women to make.

  7. This post examines the tensions between the Soviet state’s ideological commitment to women’s equality, which supported abortion as a means to allow women to occupy full roles in employment and public life, and the residual effects of patriarchy, which questioned the legitimacy of women’s decisions about pregnancies. In the Soviet context, anti-abortion propaganda was motivated by the state’s quest for more stability in families and a growth in population, yet it also reinforced assumptions about male power within social relationships.

  8. Interesting post. One thing I thought of while reading was if this was an attempt to attempt to replace the lost population due to World War II, especially in the male population. Additionally, the change on abortion, at least from the perspective of 2016, seems like a shift away from the program of earlier decades where they promoted gender equality.

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