A Russian Orthodox Church-backed move to tighten abortion legislation in Russia stirred up resistance from women’s rights groups.
At the center of the debate is an amendment to the country’s current health law that would cap abortions at 12 weeks and impose a waiting period of up to one week from initial consultations. The legislation would also make it mandatory for women more than six weeks pregnant to see the embryo on an ultrasound, hear its heartbeat, and undergo counseling before the procedure.
The proposal is the latest attempt to solidify an abortion policy in Russia that has a long and tumultuous history with the issue.
The Soviet Union, in 1920, was the first country to legalize abortion. It banned abortion in 1936 in an attempt to increase birthrate. Abortion became legal again in 1955 and recently came under attack for being overused.
More than 1 million abortions are performed in Russia in each year since 1957, according to statistics from the United Nations. Some years even topped 5 million abortions – a number significantly higher than the rate of abortions in the United States.
Proponents of the new legislation said it is necessary to reign in the number of abortions performed in the country.
"Our two main motives are the fact that Russia is dying out and our religious tradition. We cannot forget our faith," said Yelena Mizulina, chair of the family issues committee that fielded the law, to Reuters. "Despite the long Communist period, it is seen as murder, as a violation of the ten commandments."
Abortion is also blamed for causing a significant decline in Russia’s population.
"America is not threatened with extinction, it can afford to be more lenient," Mizulina said.
Officials in Russia have attempted to fix the population decline crisis by offering subsidies to families with more than one child, according to reports.
Barring mass immigration or another change drastically affects population growth, Russia is slated to shrink in population 20 percent by 2050, according to U.N. estimates.
The church-backed measure limiting abortion in Russia drew sharp criticism and sparked rallies in Moscow, according to reports. More than 150 human rights and feminist groups around the world sign a petition protesting the measure.
“Why should a priest decide what I do with my body?” said Dina Orlova to Reuters at a rally in the capital city.
Church leaders, however, are not swayed while the demonstrations maintain Russians want new controls.
"Attitudes are clearly changing swiftly and should be reflected in politics and the law," said representative Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin.
Harsher measures were recently dropped from the bill after polls deemed them unpopular, according to reports. Previously, supporters wanted to include mandatory parental consent for women under 18 and spousal approval for married women.
Proponents plan to target the over-the-counter sale of the morning-after pill next, Mizulina told Reuters.