Russian authorities are limiting access to abortions in an attempt to confront the country’s longstanding demographic crisis.
Measures include making it an offence trying to persuade a woman to have an abortion and pressuring private clinics to stop carrying out the procedure.
Feminist groups say the campaign is putting the lives of women at risk.
The Russian Orthodox Church, which has close ties to the Kremlin, is playing a key role in the anti-abortion campaign.
“As a member of the clergy, I testify that an abortion is a disaster and a tragedy for the woman those close to her,” Patriarch Kirill, the Kremlin-backed head of the church, said in January 2023.
“Officials, ultra-right politicians and the church are actively forcing women and girls to give birth to unwanted children,” said the Urals Feminist Movement group, which has organised small-scale protests in favour of abortion rights.
“These initiatives will only lead to a dramatic increase in the number of illegal abortions and a huge number of maimed and killed Russian women.”
Russia’s population is virtually the same size as it was over 20 years ago. According to official figures, there are now 144 million people in Russia – 2 million fewer than in 2001, when President Vladimir Putin first came to power.
Religious authorities say a key factor for the demographic crisis is the high number of abortions. Almost a third of Russian women say they have had one.
In 2022, more than 500,000 pregnancies were terminated, compared to 1.3 million children born in Russia. Mr Putin called it “an acute problem”.
“The population can be increased as if by waving a magic wand: if we solve this problem and learn how to dissuade women from having abortions, statistics will go up immediately,” according to Patriarch Kirill.
Authorities are concerned that the decreasing number of young people, particularly men, will make it more difficult for the Russian military to recruit soldiers. There are also worries about the effects of a stagnant population on the economy.
Russian feminists say women’s rights are being curtailed to benefit the military and economy. “They need new taxpayers, they need new soldiers,” Maria Mueller of the Russian feminist association, Ona, told the BBC.
The authorities are increasingly seeking to informally limit abortions, though the country’s laws remain on paper some of the most liberal in the world.
The Health Ministry has dawn up guidelines telling medics how best to dissuade women from having an abortion. Doctors are encouraged to tell pregnant women who are younger than 18 that young parents bond better with their children “because they are practically from the same generation”.
If a pregnant woman is single, doctors are meant to tell her that “having a child is no obstacle to finding a life partner”.