On the New Abortion Law

(July 17, 1936)

Aleksandra Kollontai

How do the women in the Soviet Union stand towards the new abortion law?

I would like to first point out the fact that it is an error to place the question of abortion in the foreground in the assessment of the June 27 law. The new law has another and very particular purpose: to give women an even greater possibility than before of combining motherhood with an occupation. Seven out of the eight articles of the law deal with the increased provisions for mother and child. With this law the Soviet state emphasises once again its principled position towards motherhood. Motherhood is not a private affair but a natural social function of women. From the first day of the existence of the Soviet state, Soviet legislation always emphasised the view that women have two primary tasks in the new society: to be active citizens of the state and at the same time not to neglect motherhood. But so that women can fulfill their occupation and citizen’s duty without disadvantage to motherhood, the state must make sure that motherhood is made easier in all possible ways, on the one hand by a broad network of social institutions for children‘s welfare (nurseries, kindergartens, children‘s colonies, homes for mothers, etc.), on the other hand by state material support for the mother, and finally by detailed legislation that governs the question of child support. The new law of June 17 is really a logical extension of this principle.

With this law the Soviet government takes on a huge material obligation in its budget, in order to accomplish the expansion of the institutions for the well-being of mothers and children and make accommodations for women, so that they can fulfill their two tasks without disadvantage to the one by the other.

But what does article 1) of the law mean, which abolishes the former law for the permissibility of abortions and forbids abortions?

The law about the permissibility of abortions was approved in 1920 in the Soviet Union under the pressure of specific unfavourable conditions that prevailed in the country at that time. The Civil War was not yet over. Severe economic living conditions prevailed and the main task for the country fighting for its freedom consisted in

using all forces for the building of a new social order. Women as active citizens of the state had to take part, even if their maternal duties were thus left behind.

Although the government legally recognised motherhood as a function of women of equal value as their work for the state, the state could not yet sufficiently guarantee women as mothers. Thus, under these conditions the law permitting abortions was approved.

Now the population of the Soviet Union is living under completely different, more favourable and more fortunate conditions. The well-being of people in the city and particularly in the countryside has been greatly improved over the last years. The position of women as a work group has been strengthened. The time has come for the state and society to do all they can and must to give women the opportunity of not only having an occupation but also of being mothers.

But the old law on abortions did not prevent women from becoming mothers. There was no compulsion for abortions?

Yes, of course there was no compulsion. But there is a psychological factor here, against which the new law will fight strenuously. That is the psychology of men. As I already said, in the family law of the Soviet Union there is a provision about the payment of child support. But it must be said that much too often men have tried to avoid fulfilling their obligations. In many cases it was particularly the man who urged the woman to get an abortion, so that he would not have to pay child support. I would like to particularly point out that the first article of the law contains a very strong provision against anyone who influences a woman to have an abortion. Such an action is considered criminal.

The fight against abortion in the law of June 27 has a very particular purpose: to educate men to a greater responsibility towards their comrades, the women. In article 8 of the new law the question of child support is heavily stressed. Also the non-payment of child support is considered criminal. The law establishes a series of measures to lighten the economic load of motherhood for the woman, while on the other hand the law imposes a much greater obligation than before on the man towards his children,

How does the new law make life easier for women?

First of all we increased the amount of state support for the mother. Second it is punishable to refuse employment to a woman due to her pregnancy. Also the legal pregnancy leave is increased by law to 56 days, also for office workers. Every family that has more than 6 children gets an annual state contribution. The number of nurseries is being greatly increased, as well as the number of kindergartens and other institutions. And finally the financial support by the state for all these institutions will almost double.

I would also like to emphasise that the law logically carries through the social policy of the Soviet Union regarding the family and marriage relations. The law leaves only a certain part of the economic burden to the parents. The state takes on more and more of the moral and economic duties towards the children. The law of June 27 is an indication of the broader development of social institutions for provisions for small children.

Women in the Soviet Union are in the first place independent and equal citizens who participate actively in the building of the new society. And if at the same time they fulfill their maternal duties, then the state stands on their side with all available assistance.

Don’t you believe that the abolition of the old law, which freely provided for abortions in the Soviet Union, will lead to an unfavourable reaction in the other countries, where the radical women are leading a courageous fight for the right to abortion?

I believe that if one judges the law in the correct light, then it can have no negative influence on this courageous fight and will give the opponents of abortion no new weapons.

One cannot compare the conditions under which women in the Soviet Union live and work with the conditions in other countries. As long as the state in the Soviet Union was not able to provide complete, broad and effective assistance for motherhood, and as long as economic prosperity for the broad masses of the population in the Soviet Union was not assured, abortions in the Soviet Union were permitted by law.

In no other country are there such guarantees as those in the Soviet Union that make motherhood easier for women. As long as women or men live under the pressure of unemployment, as long as the level of wages is not sufficient for a family, as long as housing conditions are unfavourable, and as long as the state does not make motherhood easier for every woman in various ways and does not provide social services for mother and child, it is clear that the women must stand up for free abortions.

In what cases and under what criteria is abortion permitted in the the Soviet Union?

Under point 1 of article 1) of the new law, the performance of abortions is permitted in cases where pregnancy is a threat to the life of the woman or causes severe consequences to the health of the pregnant woman. Abortions are also permitted if the diseases of the parents could be transmitted to the children. Thus, eugenic principles were taken into account in the new law.

You have not yet given me a direct answer to my first question: how do women in the Soviet Union stand towards the new law?

The law of June 27 in the Soviet Union was approved after an extremely democratic action of the Soviet government. The draft of this law was freely discussed for a whole month in the factories, offices, in the countryside, etc. Thousands of letters were sent in from the women themselves and also from men. The press had discussions for and against the law and many of the proposals for the draft were taken into account in the approval of the law. The majority of the women spoke out in favour of the new law, principally because the law would have a certain effect on the psychology of the men; it should increase the feeling of responsibility of the men for children and women. The women are warm supporters of this law. But it seems to me that the men were somewhat more reserved. This particularly shows the usefulness of the law, that men should be trained to more comradely relations towards women.

RGASPI.  F. 134. Op. 1. D.257. LL. 1-6.

Translated from the German by George Gruenthal

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