“Children are our future,” claimed a poster produced shortly after abortion was banned in 1936: it depicted a woman sitting at home with a baby on her lap and a child at her side and advised its audience “not to deprive themselves of the joys of motherhood.” Officials lectured on the joys of children, parental and patriotic pride, upward mobility, and the happiness of the working mother. Motherhood, “a great and honorable duty,” was not only their private affair, but also an affair of great social significance. The abortion law had two purposes: “to protect the health” of women and “to safeguard the rearing of a strong and healthy younger generation.” But in reality, forbidding abortion would only swell the numbers of unwanted and neglected children.
When the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917, they believed that under socialism, the family would “wither away.” Bolshevik efforts to draw women into new economic roles, to redefine the relationship between the family and the larger society, and above all to alter cultural values and behavior represent the earliest and most far-reaching attempt ever undertaken to transform the status and role of women. Women had entered the workforce, but they were still responsible for child rearing and the housework essential to the family. Under socialism, the Bolsheviks argued, household labor would be transferred to the public sphere. By the end of the 1920s, as more and more women were forced to work, the conflict between the demands of production and reproduction resulted in high infant mortality, child neglect and increases in illegal abortions. The Communist Party assumed that the employment of women would ensure their liberation. They also had no commitment to the use of abortion as one of the means of women’s emancipation. As the law of abortion made clear, it was the responsibility of women to bear children, whether or not they worked or had adequate housing for their families. As a response to the “withering away of the family,” the Five-Year Plan propaganda aimed at strengthening traditional family ties and women’s reproductive role. In addition, women’s roles included feeding and clothing the family, furnishing and organizing its dwelling space, and maintaining peaceful relationships with neighbors in communal apartments. Women were affected significantly and they suffered heavily during the social upheaval of the Leninist and Stalinist periods in Soviet history.