Over-planned parenthood in Romania
498/498 24 Jan 90 22:42:57
From: Kim Storment
Subj: Was Ceausescu Pro-Life?
Is this a sample of THINGS TO COME?
Karen Breslau, "Overplanned Parenthood: Ceausescu's cruel law", _Newsweek_,
Jan. 22, 1990, p. 35.
Nicolae Ceausescu loved nothing better than a monument to himself. But his
ministerial palaces and avenues paled next to another of his schemes for
building socialism: a plan to increase Romania's population from 23 million to
30 million by the year 2000. He began his campaign in 1966 with a decree that
virtually made pregnancy a state policy. "The fetus is the property of the
entire society," Ceausescu proclaimed. "Anyone who avoids having children is a
deserter who abandons the laws of national continuity."
It was one of the late dictator's cruelest commands. At first Romania's
birthrate nearly doubled. But poor nutrition and inadequate prenatal care
endangered many pregnant women. The country's infant-mortality rate soard to
83 deaths in every 1,000 births (against a Western European average of less
than 10 per thousand). About one in 10 babies was born underweight; newborns
weighing 1,500 grams (3 pounds, 5 ounces) were classified as miscarriages and
denied treatment. Unwanted survivors often ended up in orphanages. "The law
only forbade abortion," says Dr. Alexander Floran Anca of Bucharest. "It did
nothing to promote life."
Ceausescu made mockery of family planning. He forbade sex education. Books on
human sexuality and reproduction were classified as "state secrets," to be used
only as medical textbooks. With contraception banned, Romanians had to smuggle
in condoms and birth-control pills. Though strictly illegal, abortions
remained a widespread birth-control measure of last resort. Nationwide,
Western sources estimate, 60 percent of all pregnancies ended in abortion or
The government's enforcement techniques were as bad as the law. Women under
the age of 45 were rounded up at their workplaces every one to three months and
taken to clinics, where they were examined for signs of pregnancy, often in the
presence of government agents -- dubbed the "menstrual police" by some
Romanians. A pregnant woman who failed to "produce" a baby at the proper time
could expect to be summoned for questioning. Women who miscarried were
suspected of arranging an abortion. Some doctors resorted for forging
statistics. "If a child died in our district, we lost 10 to 25 percent of our
salary," says Dr. Geta Stanescu of Bucharest. "But it wasn't our fault: we
had no medicine or milk, and the families were poor."
Abortion was legal in some cases: if a woman was over 40, if she already had
four children, if her life was in danger -- or, in practice, if she had
Communist Party connections. Otherwise, illegal abortions cost from two to
four months' wages. If something went wrong, the legal consequences were
enough to deter many women from seeking timely medical help. "Usually women
were so terrified to come to the hospital that by the time we saw them it was
too late," says Dr. Anca. "Often they died at home." No one knows how many
women died from these back-alley abortions.
"Celibacy tax": A woman didn't have to be pregnant to come under scrutiny. In
1986 members of the Communist youth group were sent to quiz citizens about
their sex lives. "How often do you have sexual intercourse?" the
questionnaire read. "Why have you failed to conceive?" Women who did not have
children, even if they could not, paid a "celibacy tax" of up to 10 percent of
their monthly salaries.
The rebels who overthrew Ceausescu last month quickly rescinded the policy.
"I would have killed Ceausescu for that law alone," says Maria Dulce from her
bed at Bucharest's Municipal Hospital. The 29-year-old mother of two is
recovering from a self-induced abortion. Here eyes are bruised with fatigue.
She is among a half dozen women in the dingy hospital room. Dulce says she
terminated her pregnancy because of the trauma associated with caring for her
second child, an 18-month-old boy. "We had to buy milk on the black market,"
she says, "and we had to buy a heater just for the baby's room." She had to
have an emergency hysterectomy only days before the uprising. "Now that it's
possible for a woman to be a woman again I'm mutilated," Dulce says through
tears. "And now there is a reason to have a child in this country."