UNDER EMBARGO UNTIL 00.01 ON 30 NOVEMBER 2021
A GROWING number of countries are adopting coercive pronatal policies in a bid to make women have more children, a report has found today.
Almost 30 percent of countries globally now have pronatalist policies – up from 10 percent in the 1970s.
The Welcome to Gilead report raises serious concerns about the abuse of reproductive rights by nationalistic governments, echoing the pronatal dystopia of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
The report was produced by UK charity Population Matters backed by the Central and Eastern European Network for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.
It details how right-wing, populist and nationalist administrations are stigmatising women who choose to have smaller families as unpatriotic
The report describes how policies intended to limit women’s reproductive choices are linked to population goals.
In many countries, leaders fear the impact on their economic and political goals of women choosing to have fewer children.
As a result, the percentage of countries with pronatal policies grew from 10 percent in 1976 to 28 percent in 2015, according to the UN’s most recent data.
Not all such policies abuse reproductive rights, but increasing numbers are doing so.
The report examines examples of such restrictions in Russia, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, China, and Iran.
It identifies how politicians in the US and Germany are starting to promote the same agenda and policies.
It details in particular how pronatalism is often linked to a restrictive, patriarchal “pro-family” agenda and the promotion of ethnic nationalism, based frequently on religious orthodoxy and hostility to multiculturalism and immigration.
These motivations include subscription at the highest political level to the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory that Christian and European culture and civilisation will be extinguished by immigration from Muslim countries and high birth rates among immigrants.
In Hungary, the right-wing populist government of Viktor Orbán is now inching towards a total abortion ban. Orbán states, “we want Hungarian children. Migration for us is surrender.”
Earlier this year, former US President Mike Pence told a summit in Budapest that “plummeting birth rates” represent “a crisis that strikes at the very heart of civilisation”, adding that he hoped the US Supreme Court would overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion ruling.
In Turkey, populist President Erdoğan has revived pronatalism – equating abortion to mass murder and suggesting it is a secret plot designed to stall the country’s economic growth.
In Russia, Vladmir Putin has said that “Russia’s fate and its historic prospects depend on … how many children are born in Russian families”. Russian women have to suffer the consequences of a seven-day ‘cooling off’ period and counselling sessions with priests before they are accorded access to an abortion.
After decades of coercive policies aiming to shrink family sizes, China is now promoting increased birth rates, and in September this year the Government of Xi Jinping announced a 10-year plan aimed at reducing abortions.
In Poland, the ruling populist and pronatalist Law and Justice Party recently increased abortion restrictions, banning abortion on the grounds of foetal abnormalities, which had been the reason for 98% of all abortions in the country. Its law has recently claimed its first victim, a pregnant woman named Izabela who died after being denied an emergency operation because doctors insisted on waiting until they could no longer detect her baby’s heartbeat. (See notes for more information.)
The report urges human and reproductive rights defenders to recognise the threat posed by nationalistic pronatalism, and calls on leaders to promote and advance sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Population Matters Policy Adviser Monica Scigliano, who wrote the report, said:
“When people think of coercive population policy, their minds often go to examples like China and India, in which leaders wanted to limit population growth by forcing women to have fewer children.
“Now, however, with birth rates declining and in some cases emigration reversing population trends, that has changed.
“As people continue to choose smaller families, more governments across the world are resorting to coercive tactics, depriving people of their reproductive rights in order to increase their populations.
“In particular, nationalistic agendas can lead to a toxic brand of pronatalism that represents an almost inevitable threat to sexual and reproductive health and rights.”
Polish reproductive rights campaigner Antonina Lewandowska, who wrote the foreword to the report, said:
“The Polish pronatalist movement drove doctors into such a state of fear that they would rather let Izabela go into septic shock than terminate the pregnancy earlier and save her life. They are terrified of prosecution and stigma, as the pro-natalist/anti-choice movements would probably eat them alive.
“On the other hand, there is a group of medical professionals that are rather comfortable with the current situation, as it lets them argue that medical negligence happens due to that ‘freezing effect’ of an abhorrent law rather then their own incompetence, mistake or deliberate choice to not provide their patients with necessary medical care - an abortion - due to their personal beliefs.
“In both cases, it is clear - aggressive, fundamentalist pronatalism paved the way for violating human rights in Poland.”
Population Matters Director Robin Maynard said:
“Coercive pronatalism is not simply a manifestation of patriarchy or misogyny but can be a product of political and economic forces entirely indifferent to women, for whom they exist simply as productive or non-productive wombs.
“These regimes are instrumentalising women’s bodies to serve nationalistic, economic and patriarchal interests. Violating sexual and reproductive health and rights is never justified. It is imperative we all defend them, wherever they are threatened, and for whatever reason.”
For more information, contact:
Alex Pegler Higginson Strategy 07982 914122
The full report - Welcome to Gilead - Pronatalism and the threat to reproductive rights is availabe here.
Population Matters is a UK-based charity which campaigns to achieve a sustainable human population, to protect the natural world and improve people's lives.
Antonina Lewandowska is the Coordinator of the ASTRA Network, which is a network of SRHR and womens’ rights organisations across Eastern Europe. She is also a volunteer sex educator for the Warsaw-based Ponton Sex Educators Group, which among other work holds workshops and provides counselling hotlines for young people to discuss key issues such as contraception, consent, pregnancy, LGBTQI+ identities and violence prevention. https://astra.org.pl/ . See more details here about Izabela, the pregnant Polish woman who died as a result of not receiving adequate health care
On 1 December, the US Supreme Court will hear arguments concerning a challenge to a Mississippi law that bans abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy. The case is seen as a threat to the Roe v Wade ruling which established a constitutional right to abortion.
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