USSR: The History of a ‘Woman’s Right to Chose’ (1917-1991)

CCCP-Расти, богатырь_1950

‘Article 35: Women and men have equal rights in the USSR. 

Exercise of these rights is ensured by according women equal access with men to education and vocational and professional training, equal opportunities in employment, renumeration, and promotion, and in social and political, and cultural activity, and by special labour and health protection measures for women; by providing conditions enabling mothers to work; by legal protection, and material and moral support for mothers and children, including paid leaves and other benefits for expectant mothers and mothers, and gradual reduction of working time for mothers with small children.’

Constitution (Fundamental Law) of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

In 1920, the USSR became the first country in history to grant the termination of pregnancy as a ‘right’ for all women. Legalisation was passed in accordance with the Resolution of the People’s Commissariat of Health and the People’s Commissariat of Justice on November 16th, 1920 entitled ‘On the artificial interruption of pregnancy’. No other country came anywhere close to doing this so soon, usually because of long standing domination of certain religious views and ongoing patriarchy. This was a medical decision premised upon the Socialist idea that each woman had total control of her body as part of the ‘equality’ she enjoyed as a Soviet Citizen. Prior to Lenin abolishing the old and Czarist Law in late 1917, the general population of the Czarist Russia lived within a backward, feudalistic society, which saw illiteracy, violence, rape, child brides, child abuse and all kinds of uncivilised behaviour as the norm. Even though Lenin introduced an entirely ‘new’ world premised upon science, logic and reason, this did not mean that everyone was suddenly transformed, or that deeply entrenched ideas and opinions were easy to dislodge. A developed Socialist Society requires a good and sustained level of education and general literacy throughout the population for individuals to understand the duties and responsibilities these freedoms bring.

In the early days of medical terminations being available (free of charge) through the USSR’s National Health System (NHS), certainly between 1920-1926, it was found that many women used the option of the medical termination of preganacy as a type of ‘contraception’, contrary to its intended function. This is why the developing Soviet practice of Socialist Medicine altered its deployment throughout the USSR in 1924, bringing a definite structure and purpose to medical terminations. Regulations were introduced to restrict the circumstances within which a medical termination could be carried-out. The new Regulations stated that a medical termination (as it was not a method of contraception) could only be carried-out in the event of a threat to the life or health of a woman, or in the event of pregnancy as a result of rape. Many medical systems around the world today (even within capitalist countries), make use of this Soviet medical protocol without accrediting the source.  In 1926 these restrictions were lifted, but new guide lines took their place. Medical Terminations could take place through an increased system of medical scrutiny, with each case being treated separately and upon its own merits. Nevertheless, medical terminations during the first pregnancy were completely prohibited (due to some women suffering long-lasting and negative psychological issues, as well as others experiencing subsequent fertility issues). Medical terminatons were also prohibited for women who had undergone a medical termination less than six months previously. These changes demonstrate the progressive nature of the Soviet System and its continuously groundbreaking work in this area. Some sources (but not all) state that a ‘fee’ was introduced as a means to prevent women opting for a medical termination as a first option, but if this is correct, there were so many exceptions to paying the fee that it might as well have not been introduced. It is also stated in Russian language sources that as medical terminations were so readily made use of, short waiting lists were developed (to give women time to change their minds), but women that were employed in factories were granted an immediate medical termination if requested. This might be because Lenin put a great value in women being able to work within heavy industry and believed that such an experience ‘evolved’ each woman-worker to a new level of profound understanding.

In 1936 the ‘new’ and ‘complete’ Soviet Constitution was brought into being (considered by many the most empowering doctrine in the history of humanity). There was a wide-spread improvement in all aspects of Soviet Society as the country moved ever nearer to establishing Socialism. Restrictions were yet again introduced for medical terminations, as it was observed that many women of poor means were aborting pregnancies due to inadequate financial or material support. On June 27th, 1936, the CEC and the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR issued a decree entitled ‘On the Prohibition of Medical Terminations’ –  explaining that as the Soviet State was actively increasing material assistance to women in childbirth, establishing State assistance to large families, expanding the network of maternity homes, nurseries and kindergartens, increasing the criminal penalties for non-payment of alimony and making certain changes to the divorce legislation, habitual medical terminations were not necessary or desired. As the population varied dramatically throughout the USSR, it was agreed that an increased birthrate was favoured by the Soviet State which was willing to fund and materially support growing families. This is where many Trotskyites, revisionists and reactionaries claim the Soviet Union ‘banned’ medical terminations altogether, but this is incorrect (despite the title of the above decree). Behind the scenes, medical terminations were still carried-out if a pregnancy threatened the health or life of a woman – but the idea of a medical termination being a lifestyle choice was at an end. (A pitfall to avoid here, is the Disinformation common in Western and some modern anti-Soviet Russian discourses is that ‘illegal’ medical terminations abounded throughout the USSR – a false narrative replete with ‘statistics’. Of course, if ‘illegal’ medical terminations were carried-out, how could this be known, and who was collecting the data? Again, this is the Troyskyite notion – common in the West – which suggests that all Soviet people were exactly like their Western [capitalist] counterparts, and would resort to all kinds of bourgeois illegality if they could not get their own way).

In August, 1945, an education drive was initiated throughout the vast geographical areas of the USSR explaning that the Soviet State welcomed large families as a means to repair the millions of loses sustained during the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) – a conflict of Nazi German aggression and genocide in the USSR that saw between 27- 40 million casualties. Whereas the (bourgeois) capitalist West focuses its ideological attention upon the fallacy of the ‘individual’, the USSR advocated the collectivity of society and exemplified this through the production of the large, extended family. As the exploitative notion of the capitalist individual did not exist in the USSR, the use of medical terminations to keep families artificially ‘small’ was not required (as it is in the West). Wikepedia, for instance, which is only marginally better in Russia, continuously pursues logically flawed narratives to misrepresent Soviet history to young and enquiring minds. It does this by incorrectly comparing modern, Western individualism to the collectivised reality of Soviet Russia. This is a simplicistic strategy composed by the superficial anti-intellectualism of the US mind and need not distract us too long here.

A decree issued by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR (dated November 23th, 1955), officially lifted the ‘Prohibition’ upon medical terminations, but criminal liability outside of a medical facility was retained. By this time the standard of education and health of a growing Soviet population was considered to be so strong and robust, that an easier access to medical terminations was once again normalised. By this time the rights of women had been made a stronger reality through improving material conditions. This was augmented by greater levels of Socialist education and understanding throughout the population of Soviet women, meaning that the option of a medical termination was not premised upon a woman being habitually oppressed by men, or a capitalist State, but rather upon her own good judgement. However, as medical terminations increased in number (reaching a record high of 5.7 million in the mid-1960s), in the early 1980s, the maximum permissible term for a medical termination was increased from 12 to 24 weeks, whilst in 1987 termination of pregnancy was allowed in cases of social necessity up to 28 weeks. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the re-introduction of predatory capitalist oppression and the widespread impoverishment of the Russian people, not only did millions die of starvation and medical neglect between 1992-1999 (one study suggests 5.9 million Russians died above the normal mortality rate), but medical terminations were encouraged by the new ‘capitalist’ Russian Authorities as a means to cut the population and save resources and money (both private and public) that would have been spent on the support of the children had they been born.  The Soviet Union, whilst ensuring the rights of women, nevertheless also tried to ensure the rights of children through encouraging large families and not allowing any negative social, political, religious or cultural pressure to be asserted upon a Soviet woman.

English Language Sources:

Constitution (Fundamental Law) of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Novosti Press Agency Publishing House, Moscow, (1985), Pages 27-28

Russian Language Sources:Аборты_в_России

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