FEMFACTS
03 Jun 2019

Thousands of women died of unsafe illegal abortions in Romania -- and that's a fact

Anti-abortion activists don’t like being reminded of the nearly 10,000 women who died in “back-alley abortions” in Ceaușescu’s Romania. Their solution? Spin the story and pretend it never happened.

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Anabella Costache NewsMavens, Europe
Thousands of women died of unsafe illegal abortions in Romania -- and that's a fact - NewsMavens
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In the United States of America, abortion in the first three months of pregnancy has been legal country-wide since 1973, when a court case known as “Roe vs. Wade” put abortion under the protection of a woman's fundamental "right to privacy". Individual US states have, however, kept the right to introduce their own regulations within certain limits. In a recent onslaught of laws which directly challenge “Roe v. Wade”, several states have introduced “heartbeat bills”, which ban abortion after the detection of fetal heartbeat at about six weeks of pregnancy. The US state of Alabama has taken a step further and introduced a de facto ban on abortion, including penalties of up to 99 years in prison for doctors who provide the service. These laws have not gone into effect yet and have already been challenged in court -- a move happily welcomed by the anti-abortion movement, whose end-game is to eventually reach the US Supreme court and overthrow “Roe v. Wade”. If the court decision is overthrown it would bring abortion regulation back to the state level and open the door to outright bans on abortion by local legislators. 

These events have been closely followed by anti-abortion activists in Europe, many of whom have very close ties to their US counterparts. So when Foreign Policy magazine decided to use Romania’s historical abortion ban as a cautionary tale, the Romanian branch of the international anti-abortion network did not like it one bit.

In an article titled “What Actually Happens When a Country Bans Abortion“, the author Amy Mackinnon reminded readers of the real life consequences of abortion bans. In Romania the ban included deaths of about 10,000 women who were forced to seek illegal and unsafe abortion procedures during Nicolae Ceaușescu’s rule. Ceaușescu outlawed abortions in 1967 under the auspices of increasing the country’s birth rate. The ban was in place until 1990. 

According to Mackinnon in her report: “Romania under Ceausescu created a dystopian horror of overcrowded, filthy orphanages, and thousands died from back-alley abortions.”  A response by Romanian right-wing press and anti-abortion groups was quick to follow.

WHAT ARE THE CLAIMS?

When it posted the article about orphan children and the restriction of abortion in communist Romania, Foreign Policy chose to lie”, claims Alexandra Nadane, the head of Romania’s first “pregnancy crisis center” in a post published on May 20 on her personal blog. 

Her opinion was reposted the same day in an article by Active News. The website published it under a headline bragging about the fact that “Alexandra Nadane dismantles an article from Foreign Policy which induces the idea that limiting abortions would fill the society with orphan children, on the model of socialist Romania.” 

ActiveNews and Alexandra Nadane claim that Foreign Policy “lied” about the Romanian abortion ban case and also about the situation of orphan children between 1966 and 1989:

In Romania, during the period 1966-1989, abortions on demand were restricted, but not completely forbidden, and hundreds of thousands of abortions per year were still practiced (those officially reported),” claims ActiveNews, accusing Foreign Policy of not mentioning that abortion was not completely prohibited in Romania. 

What is more, Nadane gives the number of abortions per year during the 1966-1989 in order to prove that the prohibition was only partial.

Source: Screenshot

Nadane and Active News claim that restricting abortion was not the cause either of the huge number of children in communist Romanian orphanages, or of their miserable living conditions. It was rather the communist system who destroyed the society, they argue:

The tragedy of orphan children in Communist Romania is not due to the restriction of abortion on demand in 1966-1989, but to the effects of communism on society. The lack of love among people and the hatred of class generated the number of abortions in Romania and other communist states, the number of orphans and the lack of care towards orphaned children.”

“Abortion and ill treatment of orphans have the same cause: the lack of love and the abuse of a person who cannot defend himself/herself. Both of them hurt us as much and the pro-life movement is based on the understanding that every human person is unique and equal in dignity with all other people and it is natural to be helped when in difficult situations. After the image of God are made both man and woman, the child of wealthy parents as the child of poor parents, a genius and a person with a serious psychological impearment, the unborn child and the disabled child alike.

Alexandra Nadane considers not only that banning abortion is not the cause of the way orphans lived during communism, but that having an abortion is as bad as abusing orphan children, as both go “against human dignity”. Moreover, she claims that there is no causal relationship between restricted abortion and living conditions in Romanian orphanages from that period, stressing that:

Life in orphanages in Romania was like living in Soviet orphanages, where abortion was unrestricted, the USSR being the world champion at abortion rate.

Nadane then continues to illustrate her point with excerpts from books written about the life of children in USSR orphanages, emphasizing their poor living conditions, neglect and abuse they suffered.

WHAT ARE THE FACTS?

First of all, when Amy Mackinnon used the example of communist Romania in order to reveal the pernicious effects of banning abortion, she did not misrepresent the nature of Ceaușescu’s abortion ban, as claimed by Nadane and Active News.  Mackinnon never denied the fact that in Romania the ban of abortion wasn’t “absolute” - in fact, she specifies it: 

“Alabama’s law goes even further than Romania’s, which in principle at least allowed for exceptions in cases of rape, incest, or congenital defect. The new law allows for abortions only when there is a serious threat to the mother’s health.”

It is true that there were still abortions during the banning period, but Nadane does not mention the fact that by the mid-1960s there were 1,100,000 abortion per year and that only a few months after the law was adopted the number of registered abortions had fallen 20-fold. She also neglects the fact that the number went back up to 1,000,000 abortions in 1990, just one year after the ban ended, given that the main factors like inadequate access to contraception and sex education haven’t changed much during the time of the abortion ban. 

Secondly, Mackinnon’s main argument is related to the fact that banning abortion puts women’s life in danger: 

“Yet Romania’s prohibition of the procedure was disproportionately felt by low-income women and disadvantaged groups, which abortion-rights advocates in the United States fear would happen if the Alabama law came into force. As a last resort, many Romanian women turned to home and back-alley abortions, and by 1989, an estimated 10,000 women had died as a result of unsafe procedures. The real number of deaths might have been much higher, as women who sought abortions and those who helped them faced years of imprisonment if caught. Maternal mortality skyrocketed, doubling between 1965 and 1989.”

Contrary to their proclaimed dedication to protection of human dignity, Nadane and Active News show no consideration for all the women that died because of abortion ban. This part of Mackinnon’s report is not mentioned with a single word in their “refutals”, nor is the fact that, between 1966 and 1989, maternal mortality skyrocketed from 85 per 100 000 live births in 1965 to 169 per 100 000 live births in 1989. 

It is estimated that, during this period, almost 10,000 Romanian women died from unsafe abortion. 

Source

Furthermore, Mackinnon does not say that banning abortion was the cause of the living conditions for orphans from that period either, as Nadane and ActiveNews suggest. She only talks about the high number of orphan children from that period -- linked to the fact that women from disadvantaged groups or with low income, in contrast with wealthy woman who could afford bribing doctors or obtaining contraceptives from Germany -- were obliged to give birth even if they did not want or could not afford raising the baby: 

“Another consequence of Romania’s abortion ban was that hundreds of thousands of children were turned over to state orphanages. When communism collapsed in Romania in 1989, an estimated 170,000 children were found warehoused in filthy orphanages. Having previously been hidden from the world, images emerged of stick-thin children, many of whom had been beaten and abused. Some were left shackled to metal bed frames.”

WHO IS MAKING THESE CLAIMS?

ActiveNews is one of the main media outlets of the ultra-conservative Romanian movements, publishing virulent anti-LGBT community, anti-abortion, religious or nationalist content. What is more, the media is considered a sort of “fake news agency”. The editor-in-chief, Mihai Șomănescu, is considered one of “Russia’s friends” and has been accused of using his website to peddle Putin’s propaganda.   

Alexandra Nadane is the founder of the association “Students for Life” and of the Center for support and counseling for parents and children "Sfânta Alexandra Împărăteasa”.  Her center is  the first “crisis pregnancy center” in Romania and an affiliate of Heartbeat International, a US-based Christian association created in 1971. This network of “crisis pregnancy centers” currently has over 2,500 affiliate locations all over the world. 

A “crisis pregnancy center” is a nongovernmental organization that counsels pregnant women against abortion. Such centers promote themselves as full-service clinics, using misinformation and manipulation to reach women who seek abortion services. In the U.S, these fake clinics have become a real problem and prompted some local authorities to consider introducing legislation dealing with such facilities:

“Hartford Women’s Center is part of St. Gerard’s Center for Life, an affiliate of Heartbeat International, which describes itself as the largest network of crisis pregnancy centers in the world. Its members are trained to conceal their true intentions by opening near abortion clinics and ditching religious content. The clinic’s name and location, and the medical scrubs sometimes worn by its representatives, appear designed to confuse people into mistaking it for the abortion clinic that stands just yards away. Now city officials are trying to address the misinformation. [...] Hartford is the latest city to consider legislation to prevent fake clinics from deceiving patients,” Rewire News reports. 

This year in May, Alexandra Nadane received Heartbeat International’s “Heart of Future” prize, for her “efforts to increase recognition at the European level and for the institutionalization of the support in pregnancy crisis in Romania.” Curiously, in 2014 she participated in the International Forum “Numerous family and the future of humanity” from Moscow, together with Bogdan Stanciu, president of anti-abortion NGO ProVita; Ștefana Totorcea, editor at stiripentruviata.ro and familynews.ro; and other international personalities of the ultra-conservative movements such as Ignacio Arsuaga, president of CitizenGo.org

Nadane and Bogdan Stanciu stand behind the Coalition for Family, an extremist organization which encompasses over 40 non governmental organizations. In 2018, it was able to collect 300,000 signatures for a national referendum aimed at banning same-sex marriage in Romania. When the referendum was defeated, they created the “Civic Platform TOGETHER” which unites 506 NGOs and 130,000 individual members which is currently putting pressure on the Minister of Education, Ecaterina Andronescu, to take into consideration their “refusal of introducing gender ideology in education.” 

CONCLUSION

The claim that Foreign Policy “lied about the abortion ban in Romania” is, in fact, a lie in itself - or, in terms of our ratings, fake news. The intentional distortion of the real content of Amy Mackinnon’s article, with the focus being manipulatively switched from real deadly consequences of illegal abortions to unrelated testimonies of USSR orphanages, we rate as manipulation of facts in an attempt to spin the unfavorable facts about abortion ban in Romania.   

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