Alabama, a state in the south-eastern region of the United States, passed a total ban on abortion at any stage of pregnancy, without exceptions for rape or incest. Missouri moved a step closer to passing a ban on abortion, without exceptions for rape or incest. The bill passed the state Senate and returns to the House for approval. When a country outlaws abortion entirely, the results will be devastating. Communist Romania is a real-life test case.
Nicolae Ceausescu, the leader of Romania in 1966, banned abortion and contraception to increase the country’s population. In a short period, it worked well and the average number of children born to Romanian women escalated from 1.9 to 3.7, within a year. However, the birth rates fell as women found ways to defeat the law. Wealthy women in the country bribed doctors to perform abortions and got contraceptive IUDs smuggled in from Germany.
But Romania’s prohibition affected low-income women and disadvantaged groups. Many Romanian women from low-income groups resorted to back-alley abortions that resulted in over 10,000 deaths due to unsafe procedures. The actual figure of deaths must be much higher, as women who sought abortions and those who helped them faced years of imprisonment if caught. Maternal mortality rate rose sharply, doubling between 1965 and 1989.
Another effect of Romania’s abortion ban was that thousands of children were turned over to state orphanages. In 1989, when communism collapsed in Romania, 170,000 children were found warehoused in filthy orphanages. Images that were previously been hidden from the world emerged, many were beaten and abused. Some children were left shackled to metal bed frames.
Alabama’s new law goes even further than Romania’s, which allowed for exceptions in case of incest, rape or congenital defect. The new law allows abortions only when there is a serious threat to the mother’s health.
Many children in post-communist Romania were left with severe developmental impairment and mental health issues. For some people, confinement in orphanages caused a physical impact on the size of their brains.
Romania is a cautionary tale about what happens when a country tries to control reproductive rights. The new laws in Alabama ask what kind of support the state would provide if someone doesn’t have the option of ending a pregnancy when the fetus is found to have profound birth defects.
In 1989, when communism collapsed in Romania, the first act of the transitional government was to overturn the ban on abortion. It still remains a highly conservative country and there have been deliberate calls to ban abortion, motivated by the influential Orthodox Church and other religious groups.
In 1989, Romania aspired to build a stable democracy with equality between men and women with the United States as the main source of inspiration. Now it’s the opposite.