November 1920-2020: A Century of Abortion in Russia

By the 1970s, the USSR was averaging 7-8 million abortions per year. To this day, the countries with the highest abortion rates remain communist or recently communist: Russia, Cuba, Romania, Vietnam, China.

November 17, 2020 Dr. Paul Kengor FeaturesHistory 5Print

(Image: Steve Harvey/

Kudos to Rachel’s Vineyard and the Sisters in Jesus the Lord (as well as Jennifer Roback Morse at the Ruth Institute) for marking the centennial of a tragic moment. It was 100 years ago, November 18, 1920, that the Bolshevik regime in Soviet Russia legalized abortion. It was a moment of terrible consequence for Russia and the world.

“We are hoping that this anniversary will not pass unnoticed and that it will be an occasion of praying for an end to abortion in the whole world,” says Mother Maria Stella Whittier, a nun with Sisters in Jesus the Lord. “We invite all clergy and laypeople around to world to pray with us on this day—each in their own way and ability—and to repent by showing even the smallest restraint.” They are urging people worldwide to join them in prayer for the defense of unborn children this November 18th.

Amen to that. What happened on that date was truly a landmark, for it was a day of infamy.

Abortion was legalized by the Bolsheviks soon after they seized power. Their revolution commenced in St. Petersburg in October 1917, followed immediately by a brutal civil war from 1918-21, which (according to historian W. Bruce Lincoln) would leave some seven million Russian men, women, and children dead. But that was nothing compared to the deaths of the unborn that commenced when the Bolsheviks legalized abortion in November 1920.

Interestingly, Russians were not free to own a farm or factory or business or bank account—or go to church—under the Bolsheviks. As for Russian women, communists seized their fur coats as well as their bank accounts. You could no longer get your baby baptized. And yet, if you wanted an abortion (or a divorce), the sky was the limit. In that very narrow area, you had complete freedom.

In November 1920, having overthrown the ship of state and butchered (literally chopped into pieces) the entire Romanov family in July 1918, the Bolsheviks made good on Vladimir Lenin’s June 1913 promise (printed in Pravda) for an “unconditional annulment of all laws against abortions.” Very much akin to their later progressive progeny in the West, the Soviets issued their decree under the guise of “women’s health.” Lenin’s decree was titled “On the Protection of Women’s Health.” Abortion was made fully available and free of charge to Russian women.

As often happens when a certain vice is legalized, society saw more of it—and then some. The number of abortions skyrocketed. Remarkably, by 1934 Moscow women were having three abortions for every live birth—shocking ratios that American women, in the worst throes of Roe v. Wade, never approached.

It was soon so out of control that even eugenicist Margaret Sanger was taken aback. Like many political pilgrims and Potemkin progressives of her day, the Planned Parenthood matron made a pilgrimage to the USSR in the 1930s to learn from the Soviet “great experiment”—as John Dewey, the ‘Modern Father of Experiential Education’, put it. Those admirers included Sanger’s pal George Bernard Shaw and her boyfriend H. G. Wells (one of several boyfriend she had while married). Sanger went to the USSR in the summer of 1934. She was enticed by Lenin’s and Stalin’s advancements in birth control, which she eagerly shared in the June 1935 edition of her Birth Control Review, in an article titled, “Birth Control in Russia.”

“Theoretically, there are no obstacles to birth control in Russia,” marveled Sanger. “It is accepted … on the grounds of health and human right.” Showing that she was way ahead of her time, she said of the United States: “We could well take example from Russia, where there are no legal restrictions, no religious condemnation, and where birth control instruction is part of the regular welfare service of the government.”

It took American progressives some time to catch up to Stalin’s policies on birth control, but they’re there now.

Notably, however, while Sanger was highly positive about birth control in Russia, she was aghast at the sudden proliferation in abortion, which seemed to have spun out of control so quickly that Bolshevik central planners did not even know how many were taking place. “The total number is not known,” she reported, “but the number for Moscow alone is roughly estimated at 100,000 per year.”

Joseph Stalin had an estimate. In fact, the proliferating numbers actually worried him. By 1936, the toll was so staggering that an appalled Stalin, not exactly a great humanitarian, sought to get a grip. He banned abortion that year. He seriously contemplated that there might be no future Russia if this madness continued.

For the record, not all of Stalin’s comrades were on board. His erstwhile ally, Leon Trotsky, then in forcible exile, howled in protest. In his book The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky had insisted that “revolutionary power gave women the right to abortion” as “one of her most important civil, political and cultural rights.” This was implicit to Trotsky’s vision of the “new family.” To get there, he said, “the old family continues to dissolve far faster.” Nothing better to help the dissolution than abortion.

“You cannot ‘abolish’ the family,” lectured Trotsky. “You have to replace it.”

There, Trotsky was amending Marx and Engels, who had declared in their Communist Manifesto: “Abolition of the family! Even the most radical flare up at this infamous proposal of the communists.”

Just in case the process of abolition wasn’t moving along quick enough—as with the abolishing of private property, capital, religion, and (in the words of Marx and Engels) “all morality”—the Bolsheviks were willing to give a shove.

Eventually, the Trotsky view prevailed among communists, literally outliving Stalin, who had his date with the Grim Reaper on March 5, 1953. With Stalin dead, abortion was rushed back in. A more progressive Nikita Khrushchev put things back in order in 1955, reversing Stalin’s abortion ban, and thereby enabling abortion rates to ascend to heights unwitnessed in human history. One authoritative source from the late 1960s, Professor H. Kent Geiger, in his Harvard University Press work, reported: “one can find Soviet women who have had twenty abortions.”

By the 1970s, according to official Soviet Health Ministry statistics, the USSR was averaging 7-8 million abortions per year, annihilating whole future generations of Russian children. Only recently, under Vladimir Putin, who faced a projected population plunge from 140 million Russians in 2000 to 104 million by 2050 (according to World Health Organization projections), has Russia put restrictions on abortion and created policies to encourage fertility.

Think about those numbers: 7-8 million abortions per year! We often stare in incomprehension at the number of Russians who died in World War I (more than any other nation), in World War II (at least 20 million dead, again more than any other nation), or that were killed by their own government via purges, famine, the Gulag. The total number of Soviet citizens dead at the hands of communism range from 20 million (according to The Black Book of Communism) to 60-70 million “annihilated by Stalin alone” (according to Alexander Yakovlev).

And yet, the death toll produced by Soviet abortion takes the prize. We’re looking at possibly 70-80 million abortions in the USSR in the 1970s alone.

When Our Lady of Fatima looked to Bolshevik Russia with motherly concern and pain, we see why. The tragedy there is hard to even comprehend.

Of course, this compulsion for legal abortion was in no way merely an aberration under the Bolsheviks. Communists generally would aggressively advocate abortion. Long before American pro-choice liberals were touting slogans such as, “This is my body” (which, chillingly, is an inversion of the precise sacrificial words of Jesus Christ) or “My body, my choice” or “Keep your hands off my body,” communist women in Germany in the 1920s were urging abortion under the slogan “Your body belongs to you.” In so many areas, including radical changes in sexuality, communists were simply a few decades ahead of American progressives, with the latter eventually catching up to the communists or evolving to their position.

To this day, the countries with the highest abortion rates remain communist or recently communist: Russia, Cuba, Romania, Vietnam, China. Of course, no state has surpassed China’s wickedness toward the unborn. Many if not most of China’s abortions were compelled by the regime’s one-child policy launched over 40 years ago, one of the most severe infringements on family life ever inflicted by a government. The death toll from that single policy is hard to even calculate let alone mentally and emotionally assimilate.

Consistent with communist philosophy, these liberalized abortion policies were presented as an emancipation of women. Progressives today celebrate them. One of the most hideous modern developments that I track and write about is the communism-was-good-for-women canard that the progressive left is pushing in our universities. It’s so perverse that I included a chapter on the phenomenon in my book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism. I regularly receive distraught emails from young people telling me about a teacher or professor (or the New York Times) informing them that communism is wondrously liberating for women.

I first noticed this some 20 years ago when researching a commissioned survey of high-school civics texts. I reviewed dozens of texts used by school districts throughout the country. In those texts, there was not only no condemnation of communism vis-à-vis women, but, quite the contrary, praising of communism as something good for women. I could give many examples, but the first one—and typical in nature—that struck my eye was a popular text titled simply The World’s History. In one passage, on page 618, the authors (i.e., academics from our universities) asserted this when writing of life under Soviet communism: “legally speaking, Russian women were better off than women anywhere in the world.”

Huh? This was the 1920s. It was life under Lenin and Stalin. Which fabulous rights did Russian women gain?

Stunned by that absurd statement, I got my explanation in the next sentence: Russian women, the authors explained, received access to abortion. Among the great strides on behalf of Soviet women were “effective birth-control methods,” which, heralded the textbook for high schoolers, “became so common that it [i.e., abortion] was once again outlawed for a time after 1936.” Russian women got abortion, and hence “legally speaking … were better off than women anywhere in the world.”

What other right does a woman need, eh?

Sarcasm aside, the reality is that this is nothing to celebrate. The centenary of the legalization of abortion by Bolshevik Russia is something to remember somberly. We should pray not only for this horrible loss to humanity, but that nations today will cease to follow this same deadly path of human destruction.

Related at CWR:
• “The Radical Assault on Marriage and Family, from Karl Marx to Justice Kennedy” (May 5, 2018): An interview with Dr. Paul Kengor by Carl E. Olson
• “Communism, the New York Times, and ‘reproductive rights’” (Aug 23, 2017) by Dr. Paul Kengor

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About Dr. Paul Kengor 51 ArticlesDr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His books include The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of CommunismDupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a CenturyTakedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage, and, most recently, The Devil and Karl Marx: Communism’s Long March of Death, Deception, and Infiltration.

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