Fertility


When we hear about forced abortions and sterilisations, it seems almost natural that China should spring to mind.

The notorious one-child policy in China has given us the nightmare of family planning officials dragging pregnant women off to abortion clinics, even heavily pregnant women.

The latest horror story [HT Debs] is of a woman at full term, in labour, whose waters had broken, dragged off and unlawfully forced to undergo an abortion which left her infertile, and needing hospital treatment for 44 days (which her husband had to pay for!) – the reason? She fell pregnant a few months before her marriage. It wasn’t even a second child!

The good news, such as it is, is that Jin Yani and her husband have managed to persuade the Chinese courts to hear their claim for damages. It is not victory in court, but it is a victory even to get the courts to hear their case.

China also breaks its own laws in another way. Forced abortions and sterilisations (illegal in themselves) are also imposed on women who are supposed to be exempt from the one-child laws. For example, minority populations are permitted to have more than one child, yet it is frequently reported that abortions / sterilisations are carried out routinely under co-ercion, especially in Tibet (see here, here, and here, for example). There are more horror stories than I can recount. Imagine women kept in wicker cages, transported like cattle to be processed, dirty tents, dirty vans, blood, bleeding, and waste bins, bins overflowing with dead foetuses… Just imagine.

But China is not the only place where people have been forcibly sterilised or forced to undergo abortions against their will. Forced sterilisation has the longest and most “respectable” history, and has been practised now – often legally – for at least a century, in countries all over the world. Including those that profess to respect human rights.

Here is a run-down of some times and places where forced sterilisation is known to have been used:

USA, 1907 to 1970s: Thousands of criminals, ill or disabled people and generally “defective persons” were sterilised for expressly eugenic reasons – all perfectly legal at one time or another in 33 states (see here, and here), and providing a model for…

Germany, 1933-1945: Hitler sterilised 300,000 people. Need I say more? This article is a useful summary.

Finland, 1930-1955: 1,460 people were sterilised because they were considered defective (see here and here).

Sweden, 1935-1975: Another eugenics programme, in which 60,000 women and men were subjected to state-sanctioned sterilisations because they were considered defective. See here and here.

India, 1975-1977: During the Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi her son, Sanjay, was responsible for a programme of mass sterilisations of women and men, including kidnapping people in large groups for this purpose. (See here, for example.)

Peru, 1990s: 200,000 plus women were coercively sterilised in the space of a few short years (see here) and by way of “apology” Peru has suggested banning sterilisation altogether! (See here.) Interesting, that the suggested remedy for forcing women to undergo sterilisation against their will is to prevent them from having access to sterilisation even if that it what they want.

Slovakia, right now: Romani women undergo forced sterilisations in racist hospitals. See here and here. Right here, right now – in the European Union.

Hungary, right now: Romani women suffering again. See here, here, and here. Hungary apparently continues to permit doctors to sterilise women without following standard procedures whenever “it seems appropriate”. Right here, right now – in the European Union.

I had hoped that I could put together a comprehensive list, but I can’t. The more I search, the more I find. Denmark, Canada, Norway, France. The Soviet Union. Belgium, Japan, Britain. Italy. Australia. There seems to be hardly a developed or semi-developed nation anywhere in the world where involuntary, state-sanctioned sterilisation has not taken place to some degree. It still takes place.

Even in Israel – Israel! – early leaders advocated eugenics and set up “advice stations” to encourage young couples to reproduce responsibly… This article tells us what prominent physician and head of the Kupat Holim Clalit health maintenance organization, Dr Joseph Meir, had to say to Israelis : “We have no interest in the 10th child or even in the seventh in poor families from the East … In today’s reality we should pray frequently for a second child in a family that is a part of the intelligentsia. The poor classes of the population must not be instructed to have many children, but rather restricted.” and, to doctors – “in the event that a woman comes to you who is `a risk’ for giving birth to a sick baby, it is your obligation to make certain that she has an abortion.

So let’s not just think of China. Let’s remember not just those waste bins overflowing with blood. Let’s also remember the legacy of involuntary or co-erced sterilisation right here in Europe; let’s remember the inspiration of English and American thinkers like Sir Francis Galton, Charles Davenport and Harry Laughlin, who started it all; let’s remember the countless women and men that have been mutilated for the so-called benefit of their nations – for our nations.

Our hands are not clean.

Advertisements

Russian woman with babyI’ve blogged before about Russia’s preoccupation with its falling birth rate (see here and here) and now I need to talk about it again.

I’ve already said that Russia has many other reasons for its falling population than the low birth rate – such as disease, alcoholism, infant and childhood mortality and low life expectancy. I’ve already said that, aside from fixing those problems so that existing lives can be better and healthier, Russia could consider welcoming immigrants from overpopulated parts of the world. I’ve already raged at the principle of seeking to solve a population crisis by calling on indigenous women to step up baby production.

Now I want to say a few words about the practice. Because Putin has launched a new scheme. He will pay women who have more than one baby. Every woman who has a second child will get money for that child, something over $9,000. Which goes a long way in Russia.

Sounds good? A little bit good? At least, not so bad?

The thing is – the mother cannot actually use that money to help her raise the child. It must be used for the child’s benefit once it reaches adulthood (to buy a home or pay for university fees), or it can be put into the mother’s pension. The mother cannot use it to buy food or clothes. She cannot use it to pay nursery fees. She cannot use it to pay for school uniforms, or bus fares, or books, or toys. She does not even qualify for it unless and until her child reaches its third birthday. And not many people trust the Government to actually pay out anyway.

Sorry, Mr Putin, but it would take a lot more than this to get me into babymaking action.

Read this article, which pretty much summarises a radio story I just heard this evening. There’s a video clip too, if you’d rather get your news that way.

To me, it seems there are two things underlying the restrictions on how mothers will be “rewarded” for doing their duty to the nation.

Firstly, the fact that the woman cannot choose how best to use the money shows a lack of trust in women, a lack of faith that they know best what their families need. From what I can gather, most Russian women would much prefer that benefit be paid in the form of a “mother’s pension” or child-benefit-style regular payment to improve their incomes, so that they can afford to buy food and clothes and other necessaries. Yet they are given no choice. They must accept poverty now, in exchange for a lump sum that is accessible only in the remote future. Small wonder that they prefer childlessness.

Secondly, the fact that the government is trying to compensate a woman for bringing a child into the world by giving her money that is primarily for the child’s benefit, and not her own, says a lot. The rent is paid, not to the owner of the womb, but to its temporary tenant, after it has sucked the womb-owner dry over a period of two decades. What does this say?

That the child is what matters to Russia: not the mother, not her body, not her labour, not her poverty – the child. That even the child does not matter much until it has suriveved to adulthood, because poverty during childhood is to be tolerated and help is only to be given in a form that can be used by the grown up child. That mothers, are expected to echo this attitude, that they should accept that they are secondary. That women must not only give their bodies to Russia, but that they should be glad of it and that they should ask nothing for themselves, but only a little help for the future of these children that Russia has asked them to create.

Turkey baster, anyone?

My previous ramblings (re dead man’s sperm etc) were the product of a dazed brain. Newly invigorated by yesterday’s tidyup, I have some additional analysis to make.

I had reasoned more or less thusly:

(1) I have never been in a situation where I really, really wanted to give birth to a child and yet was unable to conceive and/or carry one. I cannot understand that state of mind, because I have never been there, never even been near.

(2) I do take the approach generally that I should not go about judging other people’s hopes, wishes, fears, ideas, attitudes and choices, even if I do understand where they are coming from, but certainly not if I have no idea what they are going through.

(3) Therefore I pass no judgement on assorted fertility treatments and similar medical interventions which are designed to produce a child who would not otherwise have been born.

(4) Accordingly, since the situation in this Israeli case is no more than an extension of fertility treatments already deemed acceptable, I can see no reason to pass judgement there, either. Therefore, it is OK, and my gut reaction to the contrary is purely an ick-factor thing. My bad.

Where I went wrong, as any half-witted feminist could have told me (but you were all either too polite, or reading something else at the time) is at stage number 3.

Since when did I give up my right to analyse the meaning and consequences of medical procedures just because I’ve never happened to want one myself?

The fact that I would never choose to give a baby of mine formula milk instead of breastfeeding does not mean that I cannot analyse the politics of the breast v bottle debate. The fact that I would never choose to undergo cosmetic surgery does not stop me from shouting from the rooftops how totally bad and wrong it is. The fact that I would never choose to undergo FGM does not stop me from screaming in my head and on my blog.

The fact that I have never been in the position where breastfeeding has become so painful and seems so difficult and there is no help or support and no light at the end of the tunnel, and there is a free sample of formula in the cupboard… so that I end up just saying to hell with it and bring on the powder… that fact does not stop me from having very deep feelings and strong opinions on the subject of our bottle-feeding culture.

The fact that I cannot imagine being so filled with hatred of and discomfort with my body that I would go through surgery to “correct” it, does not prevent me from subjecting cosmetic surgery to rigorous analysis.

The fact that I cannot imagine being so disposed that voluntary FGM seems like an attractive alternative to ostracism and daily acts of hatred – again, does not stop me from subjecting the procedure, and the process that lead to people undergoing it either willingly or at the hands of their supposedly loving parents, to feminist critique.

So let’s look at fertility “treatments”.

I know little of them. Perhaps I will take the time soon to learn more. What I do know is that they often involve drugs, invasive procedures, sometimes surgery. They involve a lot of mucking about with the putative mother’s body.

And for what, exactly?

For motherhood. Now, I am the last person to slag off motherhood. I love being a mum. I find it deeply fulfilling and satisfying. BUT. I know a lot of women who are not mothers, and they also appear to find their lives deeply fulfilling and satisfying. Motherhood is not, despite the way I do kind of feel about my own mothering, the be-all and end-all of life. In reality, it is not.

And not just for motherhood in general: for biological motherhood. The purpose of fertility treatment is not purely to “get” a child, because you can get a child in other ways – for example, by adopting one of the many, many, many children who are orphaned or otherwise in need of adoptive parents. The point is to have a child “of your own”, meaning one that is biologically related to at least one and preferably both of the putative parents. This is not essential. Mothering/parenting a child is fulfilling regardless of biology. Biology is decidedly not the be-all and end-all of being a parent.

But many, many women and their partners feel that having a child is essential. Why?
Many, many couples feel that having a child who is biologically related to them is essential. Why?

I don’t have all the answers right now, but I think this is so clearly a subject worthy of feminist analysis that I find it hard to believe I managed to not even notice this as a real issue.

Here are some thoughts.

Our society still has a very strong virign-mother-whore approach to assessing women. If you don’t want to be a virgin or a whore, yes, motherhood looks like the right place for you.

Our society still assesses women based on their ability to reproduce. Proof of fertility, in the form of a child, is proof of womanliness. Problems with fertility are an insult to our womanliness, and to our personhood, that seem impossible to bear. This assessment of womanliness based on capacity to reproduce is part of the reason why, in a workshop at the Big Green last year, someone asked whether we thought that she, as a person who had undergone a hysterectomy, was “a woman”. It is part of the reason why women disappear as they age, their biological clock ticking down to Domesday, with post-menopausal women all but invisible. Yes, a want of fertility is a defect in such a world; yes “treatment” is appropriate in such a world. Right?

In a patriarchal culture which is predicated on building up wealth over generations, on passing wealth through the paternal line – kinship is vital, and proof that someone is biologically related to you is extremely valuable. Especially for men. The whole bloody point of female oppression over the millennia has often been to ensure that the offspring a woman produces are actually fathered by the man who owns her. With biological lineage that deeply entrenched, yes, we are going to feel that bloodlines count.

And why is the medical establishment – ethicists and all – willing to go along with all this?

Patriarchy. Money. Power.

Because the person that is harmed is the woman. It is she who takes the drugs, she who undergoes the invasive procedures and/or surgery. It is she who, ultimately, will end up going through pregnancy and childbirth. It is her body that is taking all the risks; when the child is born, it is she who will do all the work. And because there is nothing that the patriarchy loves more than a nuclear family; and you can’t have a nuclear family without nuclear kids.

Because fertility treatments cost money. People pay a lot of money. People are willing to have several goes at this, if they do not succeed the first time around. Most fertility treatments are funded privately. Even poor people will scrimp and save and budget so that they can give some rich white guy a wad of cash in exchange for – what?

Because doctors are very good at doing what people want. Doing what people want makes the doctor powerful. Counselling people that what they want is not possible, not practical, that it may be harmful or risky or downright dangerous; counselling people to think carefully about what they really want, giving people the support they need to come to terms with the grief they feel at being unable to have their own children… these are not the powerful things that doctors like. The fast, dazzling magic of fertility treatment is sexy and powerful. The slow, careful magic of emotional support is difficult, draining and it gives the power to the patient/client.

Patriarchy. Money. Power.

From that point of view, what’s not to like about fertility treatment?

But from the point of view of bodily independence, there are clearly some serious problems here. Women are not baby machines. Their bodies are as they are; they do not need “correction” or “treatment” to make them into the incubators that they “ought” to be. They are not ill. The “treatment” is not medically necessary. It is not about health. It is, like cosmetic surgery and FGM, about compliance and about “choice”.

What if, instead of treating women and men with “fertility problems” as somehow defective, we just shrugged our shoulders and let them come up with another plan for their lives?

What if, after the revolution, it did not matter who you were related to: you could be yourself, a child with many loving adults to care for you – sisters, neighbours, uncles, friends.

A person who loved children but had none of her own could, like my great-Aunt, give tea-parties now and again for all the children on the street. Or form a close attachment with a child in a local single parent family where some extra support is desperately needed? Or find some other creative way to express a love of little ones and desire to spend time with them? What if men who loved children were not demonised for taking on childcare jobs? What if ANYONE could take an interest in children not biologically produced by them, without worrying about being labelled a paedophile?

Where then would be the expensive fertility doctors and their Frankenstein treatments?

A court ruled today in Israel that the parents of a 19-year-old soldier-boy who died four years ago are entitled to use the sperm that they had extracted from his corpse to impregnate a woman that he never met (and who they found by advertising – “wanted, womb, must be clean and healthy”?) so that they can produce a grandchild.

(See here and here.)

Initial reaction: WTF?! This is crazy, sick and wrong.
Considered reaction: Why is it?

Some of the arguments I have seen and heard:

What kind of life will it be for the child?

Well, you know, it’ll be life.

I’ve tried to imagine how I would feel if I found out that my dad wasn’t really my dad, and actually I was the child of a dead soldier’s frozen sperm together with a woman that the-nice-lady-who-it-turns-out-is-my-“real”-grandma found on the internet. I think it would be weird. Possibly also kind of cool. But seriously weird.

No weirder or harder to cope with, however, than finding out that you are adopted, that your “dad” is really your step-dad, that it actually isn’t perfectly normal to have two mummies and no daddy, that the laws of genetics do actually preclude two white people from having a brown baby, that people don’t like you just because you are fat / thin / clever / stupid / female / male / white / brown / pretty / ugly… and that the world we live in is a lot nastier to certain groups of people that our cosy protected home life led us to believe.

No weirder or harder to cope with than any number of other incidents of normal-ish life.

Will the adults involved have some kind of pressurising expectations of the child? That it will be a replacement for the dead father? That it will carry on the family name? That it will and must be perfect in every way because it means so much?

Many, many children are born into situations where there is a danger of these weird, unfair expectations. Children conceived in the hope that they will be able to donate bone marrow to a sick sibling. Children conceived as part of any healing process – grief at the loss of another family member being a common example, I imagine. And then think of only-children, who carry the burden of all their parents’ hopes and fears instead of being able to share that burden with siblings. Do we forbid these people from having children for these reasons?

This woman doesn’t need a grandchild, she needs a grief counselor.

The putative grandmother “on an instinct” arranged for her dead son’s sperm to be extracted from his body and frozen. Some time later, she had a dream about him which prompted her to take action. She set the wheels in motion to create her grandchild.

We cannot know her true motives, of course.

It is difficult to think of any rational explanation for a person wanting to create a grandchild out of her dead son’s sperm using the womb of a stranger… but having children isn’t about being rational. It is about love. People do all kinds of crazy things to have a child, and it isn’t about being rational – it is about love. I’ve never understood this crazy urge: but then it is very easy to say that, if you are someone who on all the available evidence appears to conceive at the drop of a hat, and who has never actually been through the “shall we have a child” decision-making process, or been through the experience of failing to conceive…

Yes, this does sound a lot like the grief talking: but don’t we think that Mr and Mrs Cohen might have thought of that? Don’t we think that the courts, lawyers, doctors and other advisers in the case might have asked that question? And, if it is grief, does that mean it is a bad thing to do? Many couples decide to have another chld after the death of an existing one – is that grief? If so, should they therefore be chastised for their self-indulgence? I have no doubt whatever that Mrs Cohen knows exactly what she is doing, and why. Yes, there is grief involved, but so what?

This child will be an orphan before it is even conceived / It is wrong to bring a child into the world without a father.

Laughing my bum right off. The child will not be all alone in the world: it will have a mother, for one thing, and at least one set of eager, not-too-old grandparents.

This “children need fathers” crap is a myth. M. Y. T. H.

I will blog more about this another day: for now I concede that coming from a single mother a bit of bitching about how UN-necessary fathers can be for the welfare of the child is not necessarily going to cut much ice. Suffice to say, that in a family such as this where there is evidently plenty of wealth and plenty of support, I’m willing to bet that the absence of a father will not cause the child any great disadvantage.

But the son/father did not consent!

Very true. He did express a desire to his mother that he would one day have children, and we do not know how serious this desire was. However, feeling like you’d like to have children one day is NOT the same as giving consent to your sperm being extracted from your cold, lifeless body and injected into the uterus of a total stranger.

Having said that: he’s dead, what does he care?

I wouldn’t have a problem with his dead liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, younameit being donated for re-use, whether or not he had specifically consented, if his nearest and dearest had given their consent instead. I might feel kind of concerned about that idea if he had specifically said “NO” and they had gone against his express wishes. But if he expressed no particular view, and they said yes, I would have no problem. Why is taking his sperm any ickier?

There are already enough children in the world / It is playing God

Very true. But, again, this doesn’t stop any other fertility treatments from going ahead. We create children “unnecessarily” all the time – and we play God all the time. This is no worse.

So then what?

I honestly don’t know the “right” answer. Is there one?

I feel that all the above are good reasons to be cautious about doing something like this. But they are not compelling reasons, in the sense that they should be determinative of such a seriously, fiercely personal decision as this. To my mind, they are analogous with the “good” reasons that are often advanced in relation to the decision whether to continue a pregnancy to term or abort it. They are points that a person must be aware of and take into account if they are to make a responsible decision, to make the right decision: but they cannot predetermine that decision.

Perhaps my distaste at the whole idea is purely that it seems icky. That doesn’t seem like a good reason to stop somebody from doing something they want to do. All kinds of stuff people do seems icky to me, but in general I don’t go around saying that They Should Be Stopped. Perhaps all the reasons in the world are just a cover because it just seems icky.

This would not be my choice, I feel sure, if I were in that situation.

But nor can I bring myself to condemn the idea. There is, after all, something in it, when you look past the ickiness: something astonishing, powerful, something to spark the imagination.

And after all, why not?

The abovementioned well-timed service interruption, preventing many from watching the England game last night, also prevented me from getting anywhere near the internet. Go Telewest!

And I had such a lot to say, as well.

For one thing, there was the uplifting feeling I had when listening to an interview with Charlie Wilson. Wilson is the subject of a forthcoming based-on-real-life film starring Tom Hanks, and I for one will not be watching it. This is a man who channelled an estimated $10bn of US government money into supporting a secret war against the USSR in Afghanistan. You’d think he might be a little bit sheepish, but he isn’t. He is full to bursting with self-congratulation over the whole thing, openly boasting about how he called in favours and misdirected funds to support his own pet, unsanctioned project. He is proud of what he did.

Asked about his penchant for globetrotting with beauty queens and the like, he says – Well, I had to travel a lot, “and I tried not to do it with ugly women.” Asked about his alcoholism and alcohol-related health problems, he says – Oh, I don’t think I drank any more than Winston (Churchill). Asked about his pulling strings to get the two Department of Defense aircraft withdrawn from the US embassy in Pakistan because the attache refused to break government rules and allow him to take his then-current girlfriend on board for a jolly, he says – It may not have been the best thing, but I’m sure anyone else would have reacted in the same way.

What a guy.

And I had a whole lot to say about China.

For example, did you know that in China, one woman kills herself every four minutes?

Xu Rong [head of the Suicide Prevention Project at the Beijing Cultural Development Centre for Rural Women] estimates that 70-80% of suicides are the direct result of conflicts between husbands and wives.Xie Lihua, editor of China’s foremost women’s magazine, agrees that traditional values are a problem. “If a woman goes to live with her husband’s family and they treat her well, or if she’s found someone who loves and respects her, she’ll be all right. If not, things will be very difficult for her. This is because there’s a saying among men that goes: ‘marrying a woman is like buying a horse: I can ride you and beat you whenever I like’.”

The story here is hopeful though. Women are setting up support networks in villages. Young women are starting to leave their villages to find work in cities and towns and to understand their own self-worth, and the possibilities before them. Go Chinese feminists!

On the other hand, did you know that women who break the one-child policy by getting pregnant for a second or third time risk forced abortions and/or sterilisations?

Zhu Hongyun… was forced to have an abortion in May 2005 because she already had a son. After she realised she was pregnant, she knew the authorities would try to prevent her from giving birth so she fled from her village and went into hiding in Linyi city. She says family planning officials kept her three sisters-in-law hostage until she returned and agreed to let them terminate the foetus. It was seven months old. Zhu is still trying to recover from the trauma of seeing her dead son dumped into a black plastic bag.

The authorities say that they are taking action to prevent this. Did you know that a man named Chen Guangcheng (an amazing human rights activist) is currently being persecuted for exposing the scandal of illegal forced abortions?

Last September, he was abducted off the streets of Beijing by family planning officials and police from Shandong…Knowing their chances of promotion are linked to family planning targets, officials turned to ruthless measures to enforce regulations.

It’s pretty scary stuff.

And now, because I spent tonight blogging about what I wanted to blog about last night, I haven’t blogged about what I wanted to blog about tonight. Rats. I will catch up with myself eventually though, never you fear.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote here about the “problem” of a falling birth rate in Russia.

Today, I was listening to a radio discussion of this issue and of how the same issue is affecting many other industrialised countries.

The problem seems to be that once women are permitted to work outside the home, once they are allowed some economic power and even a limited freedom to make some of their own choices, some of them are choosing NOT to have children.

Why would they, when motherhood is unpaid and unvalued? Why would they, when they would be expected to take on the work of mothering in addition to their economic activities, with little or no practical help from the father – or, indeed from anyone else? Why would they, when “I’m a full-time mother” means “I don’t work, I sponge off my husband / partner / family / taxpayers, I have no status of my own”?

Yet governments everywhere are scratching their heads, it seems, just at a loss to understand what they can do to encourage women to have more babies.

Well, duh. We need a revolution – change the world into a matriarchy and people will be just queuing up for motherhood. Sign us up for seven kids! But that woudn’t suit those who currently stand to benefit from patriarchy, would it? Fancy them promoting motherhood as genuinely important and valuable? Think of it: treating women and mothers as superior because of their ability to create life – rather than inferior, on a level with domesticated animals, about equivalent to a cow. Fancy that? It’s not going to happen, not without a revolution. The people who could make it happen are not women and will never abdicte their power and importance in favour of women.

Next question – does it matter that birth rates are dropping?

The world is overflowing with people. Some countries may struggle with a low birth rate, but others are threatened by population explosion. So, in this radio show, the question was very sensibly put: if your birth rates are plummeting and you need new workers to support your ageing population – why not import them by relaxing immigration restrictions?

The speaker from Russia:

We have seen how countries in Europe with liberal immigration laws end up with increasing xenophobia, nationalist parties on the rise and terrible racist crime. The same would happen in Russia if we liberalised the immigration laws here. It is a very difficult problem, we don’t want all that xenophobia to come to Russia.

The speaker from Japan:

If people want to come to Japan, they must learn Japanese as we do not do things in English, not in other languages than Japanese. So even if we liberalised the immigration rules, new workers would not be able to come because they do not speak Japanese. We are trying to get immigrant workers to help care for elderly people, but we want single workers, not families, so that won’t solve the problem with low birth rates anyway.

Says it all really. We’ll be stopping foreigners from coming here, but it’s not because we’re xenophobic – it’s because we want to prevent xenophobia. And, much as we wish we could solve this problem by encouraging new immigrants, we just can’t see how it could work. I mean, Japanese babies grow up Japanese don’t they? But immigrants don’t. It just wouldn’t work.

No wonder they need to step up production from native wombs. The foreigners are just not good enough.

Ugh. Why are people so STUPID?

Vladimir Putin has just made his state of the nation address in Russia.

He has identified one of Russia’s key ills as the declining population. As explained in this Pravda report:

Putin called the demographic slide that has shrunk Russia’s population by millions since the 1991 Soviet collapse “the most acute problem of contemporary Russia,” and encouraged legislators to budget for more generous birth bonuses, childcare support subsidies and educational benefits for mothers to encourage women to have children.“I am convinced that with such an approach, you will earn words of gratitude from millions of mothers, young families, all the citizens of our country,” Putin said.

OK, so I’ll buy that a declining population is a problem. I’m too tired to question that premise. But even accepting the premise that Russia’s population is in need of growth rather than reduction, why is the solution to urge women to have more and more babies?

Hey, Vlad, here are some other ideas for you to chew over (statistics where given are courtesy of UNICEF, the CIA world factbook, the US Census Bureau and the Population Reference Bureau).

1. Do something about the infant mortality rate (children dying under the age of 12 months). In 2004 the rate was 17 per 1,000, compared with an average for Eastern Europe of 14 and 5 for Western Europe.

2. Do something about the child mortality rate (children dying under the age of 5 years). In 2001, the rate was 21 per 1,000, compared with an average of 16 for Eastern Europe and 6 for Western Europe.

3. Do something about the ever-reducing life expectancy. In 1970 it was 70, in 1990 in was 69, in 2002 it was 68, in 2004 it was 65… What next? That 2002 figure, by the way, compares with life expectancies for Eastern Europe of 73 and for Western Europe of 79.

4. Pay heed to what others say are the real problems. Take for example, this report from the BBC, produced after Putin’s first state of the nation speech in 2000, in which he also highlighted population decline as a key problem facing the Russian Federation.

Drug use, alcoholism and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are leading reasons for the decline, said Murray Feshbach, a senior scholar at the Smithsonian Institution’s Woodrow Wilson Center…

About 15% of Russian couples are infertile, he said… And as many as 75% of women experience serious medical problems during pregnancy. The official fertility rate – understood as the average number of children a woman has between the ages of 15 and 49 – was 1.17 in 1999. The minimum rate for a population to replace itself is 2.5, Mr Feshbach said.

Disease takes its toll. STDs are a major cause of concern, he said. “There’s syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, HIV/Aids, prostitution,” he said. He estimates that there are between 450,000 and 500,000 cases of syphilis in Russia, out of a population of 145 million.

Journalist Glebov said that there were psychological as well as medical reasons for the country’s low birth rate. “It’s the state of the nation“, he said. “Most people are very pessimistic. They don’t believe children will have a future“.

Or, of course, you could ignore the high mortality rates and low life expectancy and all the healthcare problems that they imply; you could ignore the soaring rates of STDs and the shocking numbers of women having medically difficult pregnancies.

The real problem is, of course, that women are just not having enough babies, they are not fertile enough, not fecund enough, not devoted enough to their supreme purpose in life, that of reproduction and motherhood.

Never mind the healthcare system, let’s get those women back where they belong – making babies.