Abortion

Abortion. An artificial termination of pregnancy. The criminal codes that were in force in Ukrainian territories up to the First World War regarded the fetus as the beginning of human life and treated its artificial expulsion as an attempt on the child's life which called for severe punishment. Abortion without the woman's consent was punished with even greater severity. Codes introduced in the interwar period provided for legal abortions in certain exceptional circumstances. The Polish Criminal Code of 1932, for example, permitted abortion if the pregnancy threatened the mother's health or life or if the pregnancy was due to rape. On 4 June 1921 the people's commissariats of justice and of health of the Ukrainian SSR issued a decree modeled on the 1920 decree of the Russian SFSR legalizing abortions provided that they were carried out free of charge in state hospitals by competent physicians. Unqualified abortionists and physicians who performed abortions privately and under improper conditions were prosecuted. Legalization brought about an increase in the number of abortions. In the county towns of Ukraine abortions amounted to 14.3 percent of all births in 1923–4, 32.3 percent in 1924–5, and 55.2 percent in 1925. This problem was considered at the First All-Ukrainian Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which was held in Kyiv in 1927. Faced by a catastrophic decline in the birth rate and an enormous loss of life during the Famine-Genocide of 1932–3, the government prohibited abortion in 1936 and made it punishable by up to two years' imprisonment. An exception was made for abortions on medical or moral grounds. This policy led to an unprecedented increase in illegal abortions. The Soviet government was forced to revoke its decision of 1936 and on 8 February 1955 issued the decree ‘On the Repeal of the Prohibition against Abortion.' On 29 February 1956 the USSR Ministry of Health published instructions on carrying out abortions. Thus, the law reverted to that of the 1920s. Since 1955 abortions performed outside of hospitals under unsanitary conditions and by unqualified personnel have been considered illegal. For reasons of the woman's health, abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy is prohibited. The health of the woman, rather than the survival of the fetus, is protected by law.

Andrii Bilynsky

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]




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