Why Is Russian President Putin Asking Women To 'Have 8 Or More Kids'?

Russia, once known for its "traditional family values," is witnessing a concerning shift in its stance on reproductive rights. President Putin urges women to have 8-plus children, citing demographic challenges.

Oshi Saxena
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Russia, known for its emphasis on "traditional family values," is witnessing a concerning shift in its stance on reproductive rights. The Federal Assembly's recent crackdown on the LGBTQ community is now extended to reproductive choices, with a series of new laws limiting abortion access. Against the backdrop of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, President Vladimir Putin has made a controversial plea for women to have eight or more children, positioning larger families as a solution to demographic challenges.


The LGBTQ community has already faced restrictive legislation, and now reproductive rights are under fire. In a recent video speech at the World Russian People's Council, Putin declared his vision for the future, urging women to embrace larger families to boost the country's population.

The Call for Larger Families

“Many of our peoples maintain the tradition of the family, where four, five or more children are raised…Recall that in Russian families our grandmothers and great-grandmothers had both 7 and 8 children. Let us preserve and revive these traditions. The family is not just the foundation of the state and society, it is a spiritual phenomenon, a source of morality," 

Despite this call, critics highlight Putin's own limited familial footprint, raising questions about the sincerity of his plea, and reports suggest a different reality with alleged affairs and undisclosed offspring.  Putin emphasizes the importance of Russians as an ethnicity, stating, "Being Russian is more than a nationality."

Abortion Restrictions

The crackdown on reproductive rights is evident in the legislative landscape. Two Russian regions, Mordovia and Tver, have passed laws penalizing coercion into abortions, while October saw the approval of legislation restricting access to abortion drugs, potentially affecting contraceptive sales. Private health clinics in Russian-occupied Crimea have ceased providing abortions, contributing to a shift of women towards government clinics with prolonged wait times and alleged staff pressure.


Historical Context and Current Realities

The legal window for abortion in Russia has steadily narrowed since the 1990s, reflecting a broader trend under Putin's leadership. Russia's population, which peaked in 1992 at 149 million, has dwindled to approximately 144.4 million. The country records about 1.5 births per woman, falling below the 2.1 needed for population maintenance. 

While previous interventions aimed at boosting the country's low fertility rate have fallen short, the Ukraine war has renewed concerns about population decline, prompting an intensified focus on reproductive policies.

Abortion, deeply rooted in Russia's history, was legalized in 1920, only to be banned again in 1936 under Josef Stalin's rule. Lack of contraceptives during the Soviet era led to a reliance on abortion as the primary form of birth control. Today, conservatives frame contraceptives as a threat to national security, fearing a decline in birth rates.

Current Abortion Landscape:

Russia still grapples with high abortion rates compared to global standards. The incidence of abortion in 2020 was the highest globally, with 314 abortions per 1,000 live births.  According to the US think tank Rand, Russia's abortion incidence is the world's highest. The Kremlin's reintroduction of the Mother Heroine Award for women with 10 or more children reflects an attempt to instil certain values, although it remains more symbolic than practical.


Religious Influence and Political Tactics:

The Russian Orthodox Church is pushing for further restrictions, advocating for a reduction in the legal abortion timeframe. Additionally, state-funded helplines like Women for Life actively dissuade abortions, employing rhetoric that mirrors tactics from Western anti-abortion groups. Sasha Talaver, a feminist activist, notes the borrowed idea of using abortion as a political tool to create moral panic.

The Future of Reproductive Rights in Russia:

As discussions about a nationwide ban on abortions in private clinics gain momentum, activists are gearing up for a protracted struggle. Organizations are stockpiling abortion drugs in anticipation of shortages, while others are developing guides to educate women about their rights. In the face of mounting challenges, the rallying cry among activists remains clear: "We can't let ignorance take over."

Russia's restrictive stance on reproductive rights, intensified by a call for larger families, raises critical questions about individual freedoms, societal values, and the government's role in shaping family dynamics. 

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