Public appeal to ban abortions was signed on September 27, 2016 by Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Anna Kuznetsova, the new appointed children’s right ombudsman, also supported this initiative. Earlier, on September, 21 the initiative for a total ban on abortion was introduced for discussion in the State Duma.
“The church focuses mainly on the recognition of an embryo as a human from the moment of conception, raising the status of religious dogmas in the status of human values,” is written in the Statement of the Gender Equality Commission. “The interests and rights of a woman and her family members are ignored. Opponents of abortion in their initiatives perceive an opportunity to solve the problem of low birth rates in Russia, despite demographers have repeatedly argued that it is not and never will be interconnected.”
As it is also written in the Statement: “Conservative activists, church leaders say that poverty should not be an obstacle to the birth of children. However, they do not express a willingness to take responsibility for the financial support of any significant number of pregnant women and women with young children who find themselves without maintenance.”
The document points to a number of consequences which a complete or partial ban of abortion can lead to in nowadays Russia. First of all, the withdrawal of abortions from the system of Compulsory Health Insurance will make them inaccessible to the most vulnerable groups of women: with low-income, living in rural areas, mothers with many children. The working population incomes are declining because of the growing inflation, and in a poverty group there are a lot of families with two under-aged children. Especially vulnerable are mothers raising children alone.
“Many employers are not ready to take into account the needs of workers with family responsibilities; it is extremely rare to find social programs for families with children in companies and organizations,” is written in the Statement.
The document also states that in Russian society the traditional division of family responsibilities prevails, when the life of children is considered to be a zone of women’s responsibility. “This leads to an increase in the load on the woman with the birth of each child in the family, especially on working women, and it is about 80% of women of working age in Russia,” the Statement says.
The document states that the most effective way to reduce the number of abortions is a widespread campaign to prevent unwanted pregnancies, which would include the education of adolescents and adults, cheap and affordable contraception, health care organizations interested in advising on such matters. In addition, it is necessary to improve the system of social support for pregnant women and women with young children, as well as stimulating a responsible paternity.
Full text of the statement read as follows:
Gender Equality Commission of the Confederation of Labour of Russia on the initiative to withdraw abortions from Compulsory Medical Insurance and the ban on abortions
3 October 2016
September 21, 2016 the State Duma has started to discuss the initiative for a total ban on abortions. September 27, Patriarch Kirill signed a petition on the complete ban on abortions in Russia. Then the position of the church has been clarified: the Russian Orthodox Church is only going to seek the withdrawal of abortion from the Compulsory Health Insurance system. Children’s rights ombudsman Anna Kuznetsova also supported the proposal. A year and a half ago, the church voiced a proposal to ban abortion and as a first step to bring them out of the system of the Compulsory Health Insurance. These statements cause a public response that means the importance of the problem.
The church focuses mainly on the recognition of an embryo as a human from the moment of conception, raising the status of religious dogmas in the status of human values. The interests and rights of a woman and her family members are ignored. Opponents of abortion in their initiatives perceive an opportunity to solve the problem of low birth rates in Russia, despite demographers have repeatedly argued that it is not and never will be interconnected.
Conservative activists, church leaders say that poverty should not be an obstacle to the birth of children. However, they do not express a willingness to take responsibility for the financial support of any significant number of pregnant women and women with young children who find themselves without maintenance. The Conservatives also did not show efforts to confront sexism, devaluation of female identity, ideas of “biologically determined polygamy” of men, which is so widely voiced in mass media, including those under state control. Conservatives are not concerned about domestic violence, in which the use of physical force against women is often combined with marital rape. We cannot avoid mentioning the well-known negative phenomena in the countries which decided to ban abortion (an increase of backstreet operations, infanticides, damage to women’s reproductive health, the growing number of orphans etc.). Researches on the fate of children born unwanted argue that their adult life is full of the whole complex of psychological and social problems: antisocial behavior; low self-esteem (compared with wanted children), ability to adapt, life satisfaction, readiness to be a parent, etc.
The Gender Equality Commission of the Confederation of Labour of Russia draws attention to the possible catastrophic consequences of full or partial ban on abortions in modern Russia.
1. Withdrawal of abortions from the Compulsory Health Insurance system will make them inaccessible to the most vulnerable groups of women: with low-income, women living in rural areas, mothers with many children. This will inevitably lead to an increase in the number of illegal abortions with the subsequent increase in the number of diseases and mortality. During the period of the ban on abortions in 1930—1940’s maternal mortality rate in Russia exceeded 320 women per 100 thousand, now it is about 10 women. Women who will give birth to an unwanted child, will try to get rid of it with a high probability, that will contribute to infant mortality. The same consequences can have another initiative to the State Duma to ban baby boxes installation in medical institutions.
2. Number of abortions is declining from year to year in Russia, so this threat to public health issues and the future of the nation is greatly exaggerated. In 2015 there were registered 848 000 abortions, in 2014—930 000 abortions. We believe that the most effective way to reduce the number of abortions is a widespread campaign to prevent unwanted pregnancies: educating teens and adults, cheap and affordable contraception, health care organizations interested in advising on such issues. The second trend is the improvement of the system of social support for pregnant women and women with young children. The third one is a campaign to promote a conscious paternity, solutions on child support payments collection, especially considering the high level of divorce in the Russian Federation (every second marriage decays—53%, according to Russian Statistical Agency data for 2016).
3. Russia’s economy is going through hard times: working population incomes are declining because of the growing inflation, and in a poverty group there are a lot of families with two under-aged children. Experts draw attention to the commercialization of social services: more and more people have to get paid health and education services, as the quality of state-funded services is unacceptable. In 2015, free extended daycare groups at schools were abolished and fee collection left to the discretion of the educational institution. Rural schools were closed, the number of free places in institutions of additional education reduced. In many regions, the problem of providing children with places in kindergartens has not been solved, that does not allow to one of the parents find a job. In Moscow, discriminatory practices were introduced towards children up to 2 years and 8 months without a permanent Moscow registration. Formally, these children are waiting in line for a place in a kindergarten, but the Moscow Department of Education does not provide a place for them even if they are available. Another example of the refusal of the state of its social commitments is the decision of the government (September 30, 2016) not to increase the size of the maternity capital in 2017. The one can continue the list of the examples of reducing the level of social support for families. But it is obvious that one of the major incentives for parents’ decision-making on the child’s birth can be confidence, and first of all for mothers, in the social welfare of the child’s future.
4. Mothers who brought up their children alone are in a particularly vulnerable position. 4.5 months of maternity leave is paid depending on the mother’s wage, but a minimum amount of payments (if the mother did not work, did not have time to work more than 6 months, had a salary of minimum wage, etc.) is 7 500 rubles ( 107 EUR) per month. Minimum allowance of up to 1.5 years for child’s care is 2 908 rubles ( 42 EUR) per month. Child benefit is from 1.5 to 3 years—less than 50 rubles (0,7 EUR). Taking into account the fact that in Russia the number of nurseries for children under the age of 1.5 years are very few, a woman with a small child can not find a job and is completely dependent on the support of family and the environment. Social services tend to offer only a single payment of benefits and the temporary placement of a child in an orphanage or children’s home.
5. The traditional division of family responsibilities prevails in Russian society, when the life of children are considered to be a zone of women’ responsibility. This fact leads to increasing impact on the women with the birth of each child in the family, especially on working women, which include about 80% of women of working age in Russia. It is well known that women are often regarded as “inconvenient” workers precisely because of (real or just perceived) their high “traditional” involvement in the care of dependent family members. Wage inequality, barriers to promotion, an expanding list of occupations where women’s labor is prohibited (more than 450 professions), sexual harassment—that is only a few of realities faced by women trying to realize their potential in the social and labor sphere.
6. Many employers are not willing to take into account needs of workers with family responsibilities, and social programs for families with children are extremely rare in companies and organizations. There is not enough forms of employment for those who successfully combine family responsibilities and work. Wage of one parent is not enough to provide a family of 3—4 people in most cases. In Russian society upbringing of a child is imposed on citizens as a moral duty, particularly it is insistently demand from women, nevertheless it is not reinforced by a real contribution to social security. But the choice—to have or not to have children—should be an inalienable right of every human being.
For all these reasons, we believe that proposal for the withdrawal of abortion from the Compulsory Health Insurance system (and even more of their total ban) is inadmissible and dangerous and we believe that for reducing the number of abortions it is essential:
— Conducting campaigns for citizens about the methods of family planning;
— Educational programs for adolescents;
— Improving social policies in support of pregnant women, mothers, and families with children;
— Providing access to social services: medicine, education, social housing;
— Creating of programs for education and employment of women from vulnerable groups;
— Carrying out educational work on the revision of obsolete ideas concerning the roles and responsibilities of women and men in family and society; since, on the one hand, these stereotypes conduce conservation of traditional roles of women as mothers and wives and damage women’s social status and their educational and professional prospects; on the other hand, prevent a more active inclusion of men in the daily life of the family, housework and child upbringing.