Letter From the Editors

Should a woman’s right to an abortion be curtailed in Russia? This is the question the State Duma began grappling with this week as its health protection committee started examining a proposal to end abortion services at private clinics. Supporters of the bill, who include Patriarch Kirill, are claiming that private clinics “incite” women to have abortions for financial gain. Experts beg to differ. As the St. Petersburg Association of Private Clinics told Kommersant, prenatal and pediatric care and screenings are much more profitable for clinics than abortion procedures, so the argument of financial gain doesn’t really hold. The association also warned that the number of unsafe abortions will increase if the legislation passes.

But what do women think about the bill? As NG points out in an editorial, no one has actually bothered to ask them. While Russia is clearly facing a demographic crisis with its birth rate dropping precipitously every year, an antiabortion campaign is hardly the solution, the editors argue. The interests of women, they say, are not the “by-products of state and economic needs.” Instead, “We should listen to what women themselves have to say on this topic and proceed from their interests, motivations and fears.”

That said, Yevgeny Karasyuk reports in Republic that two prominent Russian women have actually had their say on the bill. According to Federation Council member Margarita Pavlova, education is the root of all evil. For young women, she says, the “self-searching” of education and career “drags on for many years and the childbearing function is lost.” However, Tatyana Bakalchuk, Wildberries CEO and Russia’s richest woman, says: “Young women must first understand how they can combine a family and a career. I am not going to recommend marriage to my three daughters until they can stand on their own two feet.” As Karasyuk comments, Bakalchuk is hardly taking a “major risk” by objecting to the ban, but it’s still refreshing to have a discussion that “questions the vector of state policy and judges it from the position of personal freedoms.”

Whatever the case, though, it’s understandable that women are being blamed for Russia’s plummeting birth rate – they’re an easy target, after all. But what of the relocation crisis that ensued after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? Will the fact that many young men fled Russia to avoid mobilization have no impact on demographics? The topic of their return to Russia is a hot one right now. As Kommersant reports, a recent poll shows that Russians are split on whether relocatees should be allowed to return to the country, with 43% of respondents saying they should be given some incentive for coming home and 48% opposing incentives or return entirely. But with politicians like Vyacheslav Volodin saying that relocatees should be sent to Magadan, it’s hard to imagine that any of the specialists who left the country are eager to return.

Speaking of the Gulag, Yevgenia Kara-Murza, wife of jailed oppositionist Vladimir Kara-Muza, who has been in a punishment cell in a Siberian prison since September, describes his daily routine in an interview with Meduza. According to her, every day, he has “an hour walk, an hour and a half of writing, and eight hours of sleep,” leaving him with “13.5 hours of absolute void in that cell” – hardly an existence for someone who was once a vibrant member of Russian civil society.

Meanwhile, life goes on, regardless. In a dispatch from Belgorod Province, Valentina Burkova reports on how citizens of this frontline region are faring. While some residents have become more circumspect in conversations about the war, others are trying their best to shut it out. As one resident says, “You can’t do something good for everyone – someone will always be worse off.”

And that’s really the long and short of it: In today’s Russia, some have the right to life, while others have the obligation to forgo this right.