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PORTSIDE  June 2011, Week 3

PORTSIDE June 2011, Week 3

Subject:

Attack on Women Rights Spreads - The Opening of the Russian Front

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Thu, 16 Jun 2011 23:24:49 -0400

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The Opening of a Russian Front in the Abortion Wars

by Merle Hoffman

On The Issues Magazine

June 13, 2011 

http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2011/06/13/openingrussian-front-abortion-wars

On Thursday, the New York Times' Sophia Kishkovsky published
a piece about alarming news that's been buzzing in
reproductive rights circles for the last couple of weeks -
Russia has embraced  their very own anti-choice movement,
and it looks strikingly like ours here in the U.S.

This is not news to me as I encountered the nascent Russian
anti-choice movement 20 years ago when I attempted to open
the first feminist medical center in Moscow, Choices East.
My desire to create a Russian version of Choices in New York
was sparked when I was confronted with a 35-year-old Russian
woman who came to me for her 36th abortion.  At that time,
abortion was the major form of birth control in the former
Soviet Union, and many immigrants had ten or twenty before
coming to Choices.  I listened in mute rage to one story
after another of lives blighted by sexually transmitted
diseases, domestic violence and hopelessness. For these
women, the issue of abortion posed no questions of morality,
ethics, or women's rights versus fetal life.  My patient
regarded her multiple abortions pragmatically, as a way of
"just getting cleaned out."

Like so many of her compatriots, she was violently opposed
to using birth control. Most Russian gynecologists promoted
the idea that the pill caused cancer, and preached the
virtues of repeat abortions. Of course, the fact that many
of them subsidized their three-dollar-a-month salaries by
doing abortions on kitchen tables might well have had an
influence on their thinking.

The only contraceptive devices locally produced were
condoms, but these were so poorly made that they were called
"galoshes," and few men consented to using them.The two most
popular forms of birth control for women were douching with
lemon juice and jumping on cardboard boxes when their
periods were late.

The slogan of many pro-choice activists in the US -
"Abortion on demand and without apology" - was a reality in
Russia, but it had little to do with freedom and privacy,
and a lot to do with state oppression and coercion.

I visited obstetric wards empty of patients, and was told
that one out of three women who sought second trimester
abortions in hospitals died from infections stemming from
illegal abortions. One woman confided that the brutality of
the state maternity wards was Russia's most effective means
of family planning.

When I attempted to bring birth control pills, condoms and
insert the first Norplant, I was violently attacked in the
press. Calling my plans to set up a women's clinic in Moscow
with state of the art abortion care an "anti-Russian ploy,"
Alexander Sterligov, former KGB general and leader of the
Russian National Assembly, was quoted as saying, "We will
not put up with Russians having more coffins than cradles."

By the early 1990s, mirroring the growth of the American
anti-choice movement, tapes of Jerry Falwell and Jimmy
Swaggart had already  aired on Russian television, while a
right-to-life conference in Moscow boasted five hundred
attendees.

Twenty years later, these sentiments have metastasized into
new attempts at legal restrictions, American-style pickets
at clinics and appropriation of the English word, "pro-
life". It's evident that Russia has caught onto Americans'
anti-choice tactics in its continuing assault on women.

The current Russian anti-choice campaign touting the
protection of "life" is a smoke screen for the same old
State/Church philosophies insuring power and control over
women's bodies. When Stalin criminalized abortion in 1936, a
fetus's right to life was not the agenda; the agenda was to
populate Russia with soldiers to counteract Hitler's rising
militarism. In all of these calculations, women are the
losers. True reproductive freedom is never under
consideration. And so women make the choices they have to
make.

Unfortunately, I never got to build my medical center. There
were some brave Russian feminists who worked with me on
presenting an open statement to Boris Yeltsin decrying the
state of women's health -- but the real work of saving
women's lives and bringing choice and dignity to Russian
women had to be put on hold, to be documented in my
forthcoming memoir, Intimate Wars.

I hope Russian feminists will take heed and stand up against
the anti-choice movement before it destroys the health and
lives of current and future generations of women.

[Merle Hoffman is an award-winning journalist, author,
activist, political organizer and women's health care
pioneer. She is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of On The
Issues Magazine and the Founder, President and CEO of
CHOICES Women's Medical Center, one of the nation's largest
and most comprehensive women's medical facilities. Her
memoir, Intimate Wars: The Life and Times of the Woman Who
Brought Abortion From the Back Alley to the Board Room, to
be released in January 2012 (Feminist Press), is a personal
account of the history of abortion rights and her critical
role in the reproductive rights movement.]

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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