Protest to ban abortion hits St Petersburg

Activists prepare placards for their demonstration against the ban of abortions. (Photo: Till Rimmele)

Protests in Poland might have won a battle this week, but the struggle to protect the right to abortion continues in Russia

The near-total ban on abortion rejected by Poland earlier this week signals a victory for women’s rights, but in neighbouring Russia the protest will continue.

“Although the ban was revoked, the situation for women in Poland and Russia alike remains far from being perfect,” says Anastasia Vepreva, one of the many activists preparing for the demonstration scheduled for Saturday (8 October) in St Petersburg.

We met her at Rosa’s House of Culture, a cultural centre in the heart of St Petersburg where many activists have gathered to organise Saturday’s demonstration.

“Movements in Russia are already promoting a ban on abortion very similar to the one in Poland”, says Olesya Panova, one of the organisers.

“The issue here is that they want to revoke free abortions for women, and that is a big problem considering how many poor people live in this country,” she adds. According to a recent state statistic nearly 20 million people in Russia live with wages of less than 9,452 roubles ($139) a month, making abortion a payable service would hit mostly that layer of the population who cannot afford an abortion and inevitably result in a rise of unwanted pregnancies.

Last week Olesya asked for permission to hold a picket and it was “surprisingly approved”. However, the approval did not come without conditions.

“We are not authorised to use speakers or microphones and the demonstration is not allowed to have more than 200 participants, limiting in that way the size of the demonstration,” says Olesya.

The demonstration, that will be carried out at the Field of Mars, aims to raise awareness on the issue of abortion and defend women’s right of freedom of choice internationally. Amid recent developments in Poland, many women are afraid that Russia will be next and this is not without reason. This is, in fact, not the first time Russia is having a go at promoting an abortion ban.

The largely-Russian Orthodox country was first successful in implementing restrictions to abortion in 2003 and again in 2011 as a consequence of the surge in religious values in the country. The Russian government felt the pressure of putting a brake to the increasingly declining population.

The most recent attempt, at the end of September is by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill. This has, once again, put the theme of abortion on the national agenda.

“Religion is transforming women into reproductive machines whose only task is that of making children”, says Tanya, who only wants to give her first name.

“We live in a country in which the ombudsman for children’s rights Anna Kuznetsova believes in telegony and denies the existence of AIDS. It is reasonable to be worried,” she adds.

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