Back and Forth on Abortions in 1930s Soviet Union

In 1936, abortion was outlawed by the Soviet government. Though it had been legalized in 1920, by the 1930s, there was a need to combat declining birth rates as well as a need to preserve the “family unit.” The above photo is an example of propaganda directed at women in the Soviet Union. The text reads “children are our future” and “don’t deprive yourself of the joys of motherhood.”

Naturally, many women objected to the reversal of the abortion law, though not for the reasons one might assume. Autonomy over one’s body, though an important issue in later years, was not so much a factor for women in the controversy over the new law. “Their objections,” writes Lewis Siegelbaum, “typically were not based on a woman’s right to control her body but rather on the impossible strains that bearing and raising children would impose on their pursuit of a career, on available living space, and other quotidian concerns.”

There are several images of propaganda available to see how the Soviet government attempted to influence young women. They display the family unit as the most important thing in a woman’s home life, and, as we can see in the above picture, show children as miracles to be treasured. For those women who did not want to see the end of legal abortion, the propaganda was not as effective. Having children was seen as a burden for those who wanted a career or a place to live.

As we can see in the history of the United States, banning abortions does not limit the number of abortions, it simply reduces the safety of the procedure for those women who get them. Furthermore, it impacted the children who were born in a negative way. According to Siegelbaum, “the rate of infant mortality rose from 146 per thousand newborns in 1935 to 162 in 1938.”

Sources:

Anatolii Chernov, Children are our Future, 1946, New Gallery, 2000. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1936-2/abolition-of-legal-abortion/abolition-of-legal-abortion-images/#bwg85/577

Gregory L. Freeze, Russia: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 361.

Lewis Sieglebaum, “Abolition of Legal Abortions,” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1936-2/abolition-of-legal-abortion/

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