The Rapid And Mostly Unnoticed Decline Of Abortion In Russia

One of the keystones of the “Dying Bear” meme is the factoid that abortions outnumber births in Russia. As Mark Steyn put it, “When it comes to the future, most Russian women are voting with their fetus.” The only problem is that there is no causal relation between abortions and demographic health whatsoever – and for that matter it is no longer even true factually.


There were 814,149 abortions in 2012, which is less than 50% of the 1,896,263 births during the same period. As we can see from the graph above, abortion as a method of fertility control was specific to the Soviet era and has been in rapid decline since the mid-1990’s. In fact Russia’s abortion rate is now basically equivalent to America’s during the early 1980’s, a decade after Roe vs. Wade. The real story about abortions in Russia is that they have been plummeting in all its regions in the past two decades as it steadily becomes a “normal country” in this as on an array of other indicators; its overall numbers of abortions per live births (43%) are now rapidly converging on the 10%-30% range typical of other developed nations.

But this chart also brings us to another point. A recent Weekly Standard article by Daniel Halper, which makes errors beyond demography (no, Putin did NOT invite Boyz II Men to sing fertility chants), reviews a new book by Jonathan V. Last about how the long supposedly doesn’t have enough babies. Not only does he claim that there are 13 abortions per live births in Russia – a statistic that was last true a decade before the book was published! – but that it “suggests a society that no longer has the will to live.” In that case, what would have made of the RSFSR circa 1965, when abortions reached an all time peak of 27 per 10 live births? Well, in 1965 the birth rate (15.7/1000) was double the death rate (7.6/1000), and the total fertility rate was at an entirely sound and replacement level rate of 2.14 children per woman!

That is the problem with moralistic rhetoric of the “voting with their fetuses” variety. Not only in Russia’s case is it now increasingly wrong at a basic factual level, along with the “voting with their feet” brouhaha over the non-existence emigration crisis, but it doesn’t even describe how the world works in general. Abortion rates were world historically high in the post-Stalin USSR, but at the same time it had eminently sustainable fertility stats. On the other hand, modern Poland – the lovechild of Anglo mainstream conservatives like Mark Steyn and Jonathan Last – has a blanket ban on abortions, but its fertility rate of 1.3 children per woman is now considerably lower than “dying Russia’s” 1.7 or so children per woman.

In reality, abortion tends to be low in low-fertility and high-fertility advanced societies alike, because people get access to pills and realize that wearing a condom is preferable to getting an STD, being saddled with child support, and/or undergoing the physical and psychological stress of an abortion.

Russia’s “Abortion Apocalypse”: А был ли мальчик?

Remember the hysterical stories back in winter 2009 about how Russia was going to see soaring abortions that would strip away all the “transient” improvements in its fertility rate over the last few years? Remember the glee this gave to Russophobes who saw it as a vindication of their criticisms / rantings against the Russian state, e.g.  Economic Crisis Causing More Russian Women to Have Abortions by academic / CIA spook Paul Goble?

Too bad for them that this has no connection with reality. The linchpin of “the story” was extremely tenuous, to say the least – а tenfold spike in search requests for “аборт” (abortion) in Russia’s Yandex search engine in November 2008 from the previous month. However, a) there was no such spike on Google at all, and b) all the “excess” searches originated from Moscow, meaning that this was almost certainly the result of bots at work. This was picked apart by inquisitive bloggers as soon as the mainstream media picked the story up, but that did not stop it raging like a gale up until March 2009 in both Russia and the West. Finally, as these predictions of an “abortion apocalypse” do not stack up to facts on the ground for 2009, which saw continuing improvements in fertility – as Sergey Slobodyan pointed out, August was the first month in the last 15 years when births exceeded deaths in Russia, as well as regional data indicating a continuation of the secular post-Soviet trend to the reduction of abortions*.

Sergey Slobodyan exposes this media tragicomedy** in more detail in his excellent detective work – Abortion Epidemic – The Story. А был ли мальчик?

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