What We Can Learn From Romania’s Complete Abortion Ban

The countrys ban killed 9,000 women. America could benext.

What We Can Learn From Romania’s Complete Abortion Ban

Ilana Gordon

The country’s ban killed 9,000 women. America could be next.

On Jan. 21, the women marched. On Jan. 22, President Trump retaliated by effectively crippling women’s rights to reproductive health care across the globe. It was a demoralizing end to the largest inaugural protest in American history.

Here in the US, the future of women’s reproductive rights is dire. On the campaign trail, Trump pledged to defund Planned Parenthood. More recently, the White House issued an ultimatum to the health care provider: Stop offering abortions or lose all government funding. (NB: Federal funding currently does not pay for abortion services at Planned Parenthood.)

Peter Keegan/Getty Images

Trump is playing a dangerous game, and his actions will affect the lives of millions of real people. Romania once gambled on women’s health, too. Trump might be interested to learn how that turned out for them.

Romanian abortion policies in the 60s

It might surprise you to learn that in 1957, Eastern European countries enjoyed some of the most liberal abortion laws ever recorded. Romania’s high abortion rates were not a nod to progressivism, but rather a lack of resources — women in the country had almost no access to contraceptives. By the mid 1960s, Romania’s abortion rate rose to over 1.1 million abortions annually (at a time when the country’s population was about 18 million). The average Romanian woman could expect to undergo 3.9 abortions over the course of her lifetime.

The Romanian people elected communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu in 1965. Concerned about the country’s shrinking population, Ceausescu enacted Decree 770, which essentially outlawed abortion entirely, with only a few exceptions:

· Women who had four or more children were allowed to have an abortion

· Women over 45 were allowed to have an abortion (this age was later lowered to 40)

· Women who became pregnant as a result of rape or incest were allowed to abort their pregnancies, as were women whose lives might be threatened in delivery or who might deliver children with congenital defects

Ceausescu’s policies worked — after one year, Romania’s total fertility rate almost doubled — but the consequences were devastating for women. Maternal mortality took a nosedive and over 9,000 women died while Ceausescu was in power. Their deaths were attributed to complications resulting from obtaining unsafe and illegal abortions.

Forced motherhood is female enslavement

In Ceausescu’s Romania, women saw their reproductive autonomy stripped away and rebranded as patriotism. But if growing Romania’s population was a patriotic privilege, these women were poorly rewarded for their efforts: women who were caught obtaining illegal abortions might spend two years in jail (the doctor who performed the surgery would serve even more time).

Gynecological exams were mandatory and performed at work. Pregnant women were treated like criminals, monitored by Ceausescu’s secret police force, the Securitate, to make sure the pregnancy was brought to term. It was not uncommon for Securitate to examine stillborn babies to ensure they had not been tampered with in utero.

The Romanian orphans rise up

Ceausescu’s policies swelled Romania’s ranks, but at a terrible cost. Parents were unable to care for the many offspring they produced and over 100,000 children were abandoned in orphanages.

It was in these Romanian orphanages that Ceausescu’s cruelty became fully apparent: children endured terrible conditions, physical and sexual abuse, starvation and general neglect. In 1990, ABC’s investigative unit, 20/20, visited an orphanage and described seeing “babies stacked on the shelves of a cart like loaves of bread.”

The lucky orphans grew up and became part of a generation known as the “Decretei.” The Romanian people revolted in 1989, 22 years after Decree 770 passed. That same year, they overthrew (and later executed) Ceausescu, eliminated his decree and re-legalized abortion.

Romanians learned firsthand what happens when you place the needs of a country above the needs of the people who inhabit it. 100,000 Romanian children grew up without love, touch, food or security — all of the things that make life worth living.

Romania gambled on women’s health and lost. President Trump is following in their footsteps and he will lose, too.

I’ll say this one more time for the people in the back: You cannot eliminate abortion. You can only eliminate safe abortion.