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 Abortion. Amy E. Randall (Santa Clara University)