Oxford, March 4 – Russian women now getting abortions because of the economic crisis are blaming the Moscow’s pro-natalist campaign last year for their fate, an attitude that reflects the difficulties most all such efforts face and one that is likely to make it even more difficult for Russia to overcome its demographic decline by boosting the birthrate.
The number of newborns in the Russian Federation in 2009 is projected to be 200,000 fewer than in 2008, a reflection primarily of the decline, which will accelerate in the coming years, in the number of women in prime child-bearing age groups and of the decision of many women not to have children at the present time because of the current economic crisis.
But this decline is also the result of what Moscow demographers are calling “crisis abortions,” the decision of some women to end the pregnancies they began in response to the Russian government’s campaign to solve the country’s demographic problems by boosting the birthrate (www.nr2.ru/health/222672.html).
Now, the Novy Region news agency reports, many of them are furious and “blame the government for everything.” In the words of one such woman, “All last year, the powers that be through the media and through advertising called on us to get pregnant.” And then when they did, many of them found themselves or their partners out of work and are seeking abortions.
“I have the feeling,” another woman in this situation said, “that I was deceived.” The government urged us to get pregnant, she said, and then the bottom dropped out of the economy and the government’s promises of support for new mothers have proved either empty or less than they originally appeared.
Government officials “shouted ‘give birth, give birth,’ but when the crisis broke, it turned out that no one needed us,” she complained.
In 1999, after default, Russian demographic specialists say, there was an upsurge in the number of abortions, but the situation now is worse because the authorities at that time had not been calling on women to have more children and consequently few women who made the decision to have an abortion then blamed the government.
And the situation is compounded by the fact that many women who became pregnant before the current economic crisis are just now seeking abortions as they recognize that the situation is unlikely to get better soon. Such late term abortions are “extremely dangerous” and are illegal, but the news agency says, “in our country, it is always easy to get around the law.”
According to interior ministry officials, a number of “underground abortion facilities” have appeared, and some regular doctors are prepared to look the other way for money. But such abortions may threaten the ability of women to bear children in the future, compromising their ability to help solve the Russian demographic crisis.
That crisis is going to get a great deal worse. This year is when the relatively small number of women born in the difficult decade of the 1990s enter prime child-bearing ages, and consequently, even if Russia is able to “resolve the problem with abortions,” the news agency says, the demographic situation will deteriorate because “there is simply no on to give birth.”
Some government officials are frustrated because they point out that one-third of the Russian women who could claim the aid package funds have not done so. But the women say that they would be far better off with real and immediate assistance than with such “virtual” promises (www.newizv.ru/news/2009-03-05/106343/).
The Russian government under Vladimir Putin has addressed that country’s demographic problems almost exclusively by seeking to promote higher birthrates rather than by dealing with the super-high mortality rates among adult males, apparently on the assumption that addressing the latter would be far more expensive.
But I.I. Beloborodov, the director of the Moscow Institute of Demographic Research, suggests in a major new article that the current policy isn’t working. Russia’s demographic decline, he says, will continue under the best of assumptions at least until 2060 and perhaps longer (www.za-nauku.ru/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1477&itemid=35).
And he describes just how complicated and expensive it would be to have a successful pro-natalist policy in Russia,, something likely to be intensified by the current experiences of Russian women who listened to Moscow’s pro-natalist policy and that could lead the Russian government to refocus its efforts on other parts of the demographic situation.