ST. PETERSBURG, Russia—Russia has the highest recorded abortion rate in the world, a reality that I became acutely aware of when a Russian acquaintance in her twenties told me offhandedly that most of her female friends had had an abortion. That Russian women so frequently exercise their right to choose seems a feminist victory. Yet the victory is a superficial one when access to contraception may well have prevented the pregnancies in the first place. Widespread access to abortion can indeed only be called a victory for women under the condition that it is made rare by widespread access to family planning and birth control.
Unfortunately, abortion is birth control for many Russian women. Few women use preventative birth control, which is often expensive and remains socially deviant. A Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty feature from 2008 reported that sex education is not part of the national curriculum in Russia, an absurd reality that leaves men and women ignorant of their birth control options and, when confronted by an unplanned pregnancy, with little choice but to opt for a hazardous and emotionally taxing abortion. And that confrontation is extremely widespread—figures from 2006 report 1.6 million abortions compared to 1.5 million live births.
Meanwhile, Russia’s small but burgeoning anti-abortion movement, beginning to resemble its counterpart in the United States, is aiming to limit women’s access to abortion and the morning-after pill. According to The New York Times, their proposed legislation would require a woman over six weeks pregnant to see her embryo or fetus on ultrasound, hear its heartbeat, and have counseling.
While few would contest that Russian women receive abortions at alarmingly high rates, impeding a woman’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy is a senseless solution. How can we effectively reduce the incidence of abortion in a nation whose women, for better or for worse, wish to limit their number of pregnancies? To begin with, affordable and widely accessible birth control; the potential of simple and effective prevention cannot be overstated.
Marina N. Bolotnikova ’14 is an editorial writer in Eliot House.