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Natalya Moskvitina, founder of Women for Life. October 2023.

Motherhood, no exceptions How a Russian organization takes state money to lie to women about abortion

Source: Meduza
Natalya Moskvitina, founder of Women for Life. October 2023.
Natalya Moskvitina, founder of Women for Life. October 2023.

The anti-abortion movement in Russia has been gaining momentum for years. Public figures now speak frequently about the prospect of a total ban on the procedure, while less drastic restrictions are regularly imposed in regions around the country and in Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory. One of the main players in Russia’s changing abortion politics is the Women for Life foundation, established by Natalya Moskvitina. Among other things, Moskvitina believes rape victims should give birth, “true womanhood” is only possible through motherhood, having fewer than three children is a “global evil,” and abortion leads directly to war. Her foundation, which openly instructs its volunteers to employ “manipulation” and deceit when talking with pregnant women, has received grants and funding from Putin’s administration. An activist from the group Feminist Anti-War Resistance who goes by the pseudonym Aida Zhivikh recently infiltrated online chat groups run by Women for Life volunteers, dug into the organization’s operations, and spoke with experts for an article about the fight against abortion in Russia. In English, Meduza breaks down the main findings from Aida Zhivikh’s reporting, with minor additions.

Limited access

In recent years, Russian officials and activists have increasingly begun talking publicly about banning abortion, ending its coverage under government health insurance, limiting access for minors, and imposing other measures to make getting the procedure more difficult. So far, there are few real restrictions in place, but the situation has been changing. Starting in September 2024, medical abortion drugs will be classified as restricted medications, which will complicate how doctors prescribe them and limit their availability.

In some Russian regions, access to abortion is already becoming more difficult. In August 2023, Mordovia passed a law prohibiting “coercion” into abortion, and over the course of the year, several regions announced that all or many private clinics would stop providing abortion services. All this was brought about by the Women for Life foundation, started by Natalya Moskvitina (a host on the Orthodox Christian TV channel Spas) and Boris Korchevnikov (general director of Spas and host of the propaganda TV program “Life and Fate”). Moskvitina refers to the foundation as “anti-abortion.”

Women for Life started as a grassroots social movement — activists organized anti-abortion campaigns and gave lectures on pre-abortion counseling. But the organization’s work begun to change when it was registered as a charity.

The first congress of the World Russian People’s Council in Udmurtia (an organization under the auspices of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose leadership includes Tsargrad TV founder Konstantin Malofeev). On the screen is a presentation of the Women for Life foundation’s anti-abortion project “Hello, Mom.”
Women for Life foundation
One of the foundation’s activities is a monthly “anti-abortion prayer service.”
Women for Life foundation
A Women for Life foundation photo exhibition entitled “Russian Madonnas” with photographs of Russian women, as well as “girls from new territories who gave birth in Russia.” The photo was taken at an exhibition in Vologda, but it is expected that the works will be shown in other cities as well.
Women for Life foundation

Alena Buldakova, the director of the Women for Life foundation, outlined the mission of their “Hello, Mom” anti-abortion project:

Our goals are to preserve life before birth, to reduce the number of abortions; our task is to motivate a woman to joyfully give birth to healthy children and be happy and to advise doctors on how to communicate with an uncertain woman so that she makes a positive reproductive choice.

According to Natalya Moskvitina, Vladimir Putin recognized the foundation’s anti-abortion project as “one of the best” and endorsed the idea of taking abortions away from the private sector and putting them under “full state control.”

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In 2022, Women for Life was awarded the top grant in a competition, five million rubles (about $55,000), to implement the “Hello, Mom” project in Mordovia. That same year, the foundation received a grant from Russia’s ruling United Russia party. Mordovia’s law banning “coercion” into abortion was developed with Moskvitina’s help as a continuation of the “Hello, Mom” project.

Now, the Tambov regional parliament is considering a “coersion” bill of its own. In Tatarstan, private clinics have started refusing to perform abortions, while in Kaliningrad, authorities are considering banning non-state organizations from terminating pregnancies. A Women for Life employee confirmed to Aida Zhivikh that the foundation is involved in these initiatives.

Repost of a post from Natalya Moskvitina’s personal page in the Women for Life foundation’s Telegram channel.
Women for Life foundation

Eight Russian regions have officially signed agreements with the project: the republics of Komi, Mordovia, and Tatarstan, as well as the Arkhangelsk, Tambov, Tula, Novgorod, and Magadan regions. A foundation employee told Aida Zhivikh that by the New Year, they hope to have agreements signed with the Kaluga and Tver regions; local authorities have already given verbal agreement. There are also plans to implement the program in the Chelyabinsk, Voronezh, and Lipetsk regions.

‘Professional manipulators’

The Women for Life foundation has a federal hotline that receives funding from the Russian government’s “Demographics” project. This year, advertisements for the hotline were placed on the streets of several Russian cities, while its number is listed on the websites of various clinics, women’s health centers, and city departments. The hotline’s operators are not required to have a degree in psychology or medicine

Aida Zhivikh called the hotline and said she was worried about an acquaintance who got pregnant but didn’t want to give birth because she had other plans for her life, and her partner was in a combat zone. The consultant advised her to “scare” her friend by telling her that terminating the pregnancy would leave her with physical and mental health problems, and to emphasize that abortion is “murder.” The consultant also referred to the fetus as a “defenseless infant.” When asked what to do if the friend’s partner dies, the person on the phone replied that being a single mother “has its advantages” in terms of getting additional government benefits.

During another conversation with a “volunteer psychologist” in which Aida Zhivikh said she was living in a dorm and not ready to have a baby, she was told that raising a child is easier than its seems. “They don’t even start seeing right away,” said the volunteer. “What kind of parenting is there at the very beginning? What will the baby need from you? Do you think the infant will cry, ask for its mother’s breast, and think to itself: ‘Oh, is my mother financially independent or not?’ How can you even assess the quality of attention? Parents are like gods to their children until they’re seven. Everything the mother says and does is just undisputed.” The volunteer also said that at four weeks of pregnancy, the embryo looks like a “little human being,” which is not the case.

At the end, the volunteer added: “And do you know that there are serious consequences to terminating a pregnancy? Statistics show that women always develop depression or psychiatric disorders two years after an abortion. For some, it’s more pronounced — for others, less so. Plus, there are health consequences: infertility, for example, but there are other consequences as well.”

Advertisements for the Women for Life Foundation’s hotline on Russia streets.
Women for Life foundation

According to a certified psychologist who spoke to Aida Zhivikh under the condition of anonymity, the women using the hotline may not understand what kind of organization they’re consulting. The foundation writes that the hotline is for “pregnant women in difficult life situations.” In the U.S., crisis centers for pregnant women operate similarly, masquerading as organizations that provide assistance to women when, in reality, their goal has nothing to do with the well-being of the patient — they simply want to discourage abortion. The psychologist explained the dangers of this approach:

A woman may indeed feel lost and in need of support. The very fact that she’s calling the hotline shows she’s not 100 percent sure of her decision, whatever it may be. There’s nothing wrong with informing her about the government support measures for mothers. What is harmful is manipulation. The charitable foundation and the specific consultant-manipulator won’t take responsibility for this woman and her child for their whole life. In fact, they exploit the vulnerability of a confused pregnant woman for their interests, not hers.

The foundation’s strategy extends into healthcare settings; it has developed scripts for medical professionals to use when communicating with pregnant women in clinical settings. “The first thing a doctor does is congratulate the future mother,” explains Moskvitina. “He gives them a brochure about all kinds of assistance — from the state, regional government, non-profit organizations, from business.”

Volunteers learn to dissuade women from having abortions in chats rooms, on forums, and on social networks. During the training sessions, the foundation’s “psychologist,” Irina Bochkovskaya, openly called the work manipulation:

It's important to challenge the [women's] perceptions. If someone writes: ‘I don't want a child,’ it doesn't mean that we shouldn’t try. We can give this child a chance. So, she writes she doesn't want it. But what's her situation? Did she ever want to become a mother? And why does she think she’ll get another chance to be pregnant? We’re shaking up perceptions here, and this is the special beauty of manipulative work with people. Ultimately, you must become professional manipulators — people capable of changing another person’s perceptions, opinions, and desires. As scary as it may sound, that’s what it is, in fact.

Every day, trained volunteers are sent links to posts made by women considering abortion, including those who have been raped or have medical reasons for terminating a pregnancy. In the volunteers’ chat, they’re advised to leave comments that would nudge the woman towards “preserving life.” They ask people to like their comments so that the algorithm favors them, or so they get a “top comment” badge. 

Some volunteers make up stories that sound like those of the women posting, while others make blatant manipulative and intimidating comments that can induce feelings of guilt and fear. They also misrepresent emergency and oral contraceptives as abortion methods.

The foundation considers those who support a woman’s right to choose as advocating for abortion. Those working for the foundation are convinced that some of these people are “Satanists” and “on the payroll of Western countries.”

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Womanhood only through motherhood

Natalya Moskvitina’s personal stance is also noteworthy. She believes that abortions should be banned at the legislative level, “just like drug addiction, prostitution, and pedophilia.” In her view, informing people about contraception is promoting “lust,” and women who become pregnant from rape should give birth. Moskvitina holds that a woman “only becomes a woman when she becomes a mother.”

All women reach self-realization through motherhood. The most important priority, the natural need of a woman, is motherhood. And naturally, there shouldn’t be just one child: it’s very difficult with only one. With the second, it's more or less possible to manage in life, but the real joy starts with three. […] A woman truly feels like an individual only when she, having already had children, can throw energy into her own creation. That’s after the third child. Women nowadays deprive themselves of these blessings when they choose to have fewer children or an abortion, which is a monstrous global evil. This evil can’t be justified by anything at all.

According to Moskvitina, the prevalence of abortions provokes wars:

We looked at the demographic map to see where the worst [situation] regarding abortion is in the CIS countries. And we saw that it’s Donetsk and Luhansk. You look at this and see what’s happening now, and you understand: maybe it had to be this way. If we kill our children — and this is a war that isn’t visible — then later comes the actual war.

Every week, with the support of the Women for Life foundation, “anti-abortion prayer services” are held at the Alexander Nevsky church at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. During one of these services, priest Fyodor Romanenko also linked abortion to war:

It’s important for us to pray that our whole land will be rid of this. Because this is one of the answers to the question of why our great, mighty, rich country lies not exactly in ruins, but in a very strange state… when it cannot use its power or its resources, when everything is going wrong. It’s precisely because abortions continue in this country. Many ask why the Lord doesn’t now give us great military leaders like Prince Alexander Nevsky, Dmitry Donskoy, Alexander Suvorov. Why we don’t now have great scientists and poets. The Lord sends them – but not all of them are allowed to be born.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of rape or sexual assault, please reach out to one of the following resources for support:

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (for U.S. readers)

Rape Crisis Network Europe (for E.U. readers)

Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime (for Canadian readers)

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Original account by an activist from Feminist Anti-War Resistance. Retelling by Meduza.

Translation by Emily ShawRuss

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