History of Medicine


An Open Access Journal

On the history of the ban on abortion in the USSR: the views of the authorities and Soviet public opinion from the perspective of bioethics (1935–1936)

Nikita Yu. Pivovarov1,2, Nataliya P. Shok2
1 FSAEI HE I.M. Sechenov First MSMU MOH Russia (Sechenov University)
8 Trubetskaya St., building 2, Moscow 119991, Russia
10/1 Minin and Pozharsky Sq., Nizhny Novgorod 603005, Russia
This article looks at the debate in the USSR in 1935–1936 on banning abortions. This episode of Soviet history has enormous heuristic potential for researchers studying the Soviet period. At first sight, the bill to ban abortions appears simply a matter of historical medical fact, based on which we can in many ways draw conclusions about the situation in healthcare in general, and in obstetrics and gynaecology in particular. However, this small-scale episode in the history of Soviet healthcare provides scope for substantial cross-disciplinary research prospects in fields such as anthropology, sociology, political science, and so on, significantly expanding the research horizons of the Soviet past. Our analysis of the abortion ban debate draws on two groups of sources. The first comprises documents of the highest Communist Party and government bodies, stored in the thematic files of the Soviet Politburo. Particular attention is paid to the notes and marginalia made by Stalin in the drafts of the law to ban abortions. Practically all the materials in this group have been officially declassified only comparatively recently, and now being studied for the first time. The second group of sources comprises letters from members of the Soviet public to the highest organs of government and to national and local periodicals. The letters present a wide range of opinions and observations on the bill to ban abortions. Comparing these two groups of sources has allowed us to become the first Russian researchers to study the development of ethical discourse, and show the history of the emergence of bioethical discourse, in the Soviet period.

Keywords: history of medicine, bioethics, abortion ban, USSR, Stalinism, Soviet health care


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