October 21, 2011 ( – Russia’s national parliament, the Federal Assembly, has voted to restrict abortion for the first time in decades, in the face of a demographic decline that has reduced the population by 2.9% since 1992.

The new law, which is expected to be signed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, prohibits abortions beyond the 12th week of pregnancy, and imposes a mandatory waiting period of between two and seven days.  Exceptions are permitted for economic hardship, which allows abortions up to the point 22 weeks of gestation.

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Legislators discarded proposals by the Orthodox Church to require the consent of the husband or the parents of an underage child, and also did not provide for conscientious objection for doctors who do not wish to perform the deadly procedure.

The restrictions represent the first attempt to arrest the demographic decline of Russia, which has been underway since abortion laws were liberalized in the mid-1960s.

The decline in the country’s population is caused by a number of factors.  Since the Communist era, abortion has been the primary way of avoiding birth, resulting in an annual six million abortions every year, in a country with a population of only 143 million people. 

The current birth birth rate is approximately 12.5 per 1,000 people, down from 26.9 in 1950. The average number of children per family is 1.4, well below replacement rate, and the death rate has almost doubled since 1960, to 14.2 per 1,000.

The country has also been decimated by a deadly plague of alcoholism and unhealthy living among men, which lowered the average male life expectancy to 58 in 1999.  Although male life expectancy has since rebounded to 62 years, it remains very low in relation to European averages, and approximately eight years fewer than women. The death rate for Russian men between 22 and 45 years of age is five times higher than the average for western Europe.

In addition to restricting abortion, Russia has also created the “mother capital” policy, which pays mothers approximately $10,000 for having more children.  However, the population has continued to fall since the implementation of the policy.