The Soviet decree on abortion (1920)

The Soviet decree on abortion was passed in December 1920, in response to a growing spate of illegal abortions, complications and deaths:

“In past decades, the number of women resorting to artificial termination of pregnancy has grown both in the West and here in this country. The legislation of all countries combats this evil by punishing the woman who chooses to have an abortion and the doctor who makes it. Without leading to favourable results, this method of combating abortions has driven the operation underground and made the woman a victim of mercenary and ignorant quacks who make a profession of these secret operations. As a result, up to 50 per cent of such woman are infected in the course of operation, and up to four per cent of them die.

The Workers’ and Peasants’ Government is conscious of this serious evil to the community. It combats this evil by propaganda against abortions among working women. By working for socialism, and by introducing the protection of maternity and infancy on an extensive scale, it feels assured of achieving the gradual disappearance of this evil. But as the moral survivals of the past and the difficult economic conditions of the present still compel many women to resort to this operation, the People’s Commissariats of Health and of Justice, anxious to protect the health of the women and considering that the method of repressions in this field fails entirely to achieve this aim, have decided:

1. To permit such operations to be made freely and without any charge in Soviet hospitals, where conditions are assured of minimising the harm of the operation.

2. It is absolutely forbidden for anyone but a doctor to carry out this operation.

3. Any nurse or midwife found guilty of making such an operation will be deprived of the right to practice, and tried by a People’s Court.

4. A doctor carrying out an abortion in his private practice for the purposes of profit will be called to account by a People’s Court.

N. Semashko, People’s Commissar of Health.
Kurskii, People’s Commissar of Justice.”