Romania's peculiar abortion history

by Susan Olasky
Posted 1/26/15, 04:43 pm

The taking of human life in the womb is not just an American issue. Romania has the highest abortion rate in Europe at about 480 for every 1,000 live births, according to the World Health Organization. That is roughly double the United States’ abortion rate.

For decades, women in Romania used abortion as a primary means of birth control, except for one period during the rule of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. While the rest of the communist world encouraged abortion, Ceausescu banned it.

When he came to power in the mid-1960s, Ceausescu had dreams of Romanian glory. To achieve those dreams, he needed more Romanians, but at that time the birth rate was declining. So Ceausescu implemented Decree 770, outlawing contraception and banning most abortions for women younger than 40. 

That may sound like a good thing, but Ceausescu was not concerned about unborn babies or the morality of abortion. He believed children belonged to the state. 

“The fetus is the property of the entire society,” he said. “Anyone who avoids having children is a deserter who abandons the laws of national continuity.”

Ceausescu selected the healthiest and smartest children for elite training in math, science, sports, and music. He required all children to participate in patriotic youth organizations. These children joined a cult of personality around Ceausescu. 

Romania was poor, and many families lacked money for prenatal care. The system consigned premature and underweight children to death. It sent those with disabilities to orphanages. 

The government used police and prosecutors to enforce the decree. They kept track of women’s menstrual periods and questioned those who failed to get pregnant. The results of the policy were immediate. The year before the decree, Romanian women had 973,000 legal abortions. The year after, they only had 206,000. Women still resorted to illegal abortions, often leaving them permanently scarred or dead.

But Ceausescu’s national ambitions crashed in the 1980s when the economy went into further free fall. Breadlines formed. People went hungry. In 1989, a violent revolution ended Ceausescu’s rule. He and his wife were arrested and sentenced to death after a two-hour trial. When soldiers tried to restrain the Ceausescus, the dictator and his wife screamed and berated them.On Christmas Day in 1989, the Ceausescus died by firing squad.

The new government immediately repealed Decree 770. Abortion became legal, cheap, and common. One year later, Romanian women had 1million abortions, or three times more abortions than live births.

Now, 25 years later, the abortion rate has declined, but it is still the highest in Europe. And many Romanians view abortion as one of the hard-won freedoms they recovered after communism. Ceausescu left a bitter legacy that pro-lifers are still trying to overcome.

Listen to Susan Olasky’s report about abortion in Romania on The World and Everything in It.

Also read the poem “The Fruit of Love (A Manifesto Against Abortion)” by Romanian poet Claudiu Lulciuc.

Susan Olasky

Susan is WORLD’s story coach and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband, Marvin, live in Austin, Texas. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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  • Librarian Nancy
    Posted: Fri, 04/15/2016 05:54 pm

    What a twisted world we live in; Satan is so clever--and so relentless. We need to be wise and relentless in living for God's glory.  This is enlightening, but very sad. Thanks for explaining the situation, Susan!

  • Anonymous (not verified)
    Posted: Fri, 04/15/2016 05:54 pm

    We just heard about this in a documentary about Romania recently!! Sad!