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Macedonia: Reactions to Government’s Anti-Abortion Campaign

This post is part of our special coverage Global Development 2011.

The Macedonian government’s campaign to “explain the consequences of abortion”, re-started during the winter holidays, and incited reactions from bloggers and civil society organizations, who mainly interpret this as an attempt to take Macedonia back to the Middle Ages.

The first blogger to react was the gender and ethnic studies expert Kristina Hadzi-Vasileva:

I just saw the latest campaign by the Government, using the slogan “Choose life.” The commercials (I saw two) are directed against abortion.

The text at the end of the commercial claims that the campaign is about explaining the consequences of abortion. Horror!

The first advertisement explains that abortions bring many consequences, including inflammations, infections, sepsis, consequences of anesthesia (sic), psychological consequences and so on.

During 2010 a number of women died at childbirth (in medical institutions) in Macedonia from–imagine!–the above reasons. Except the last one, of course. When you die, the psychological consequences cannot harm you.

I wonder since when it is the obligation of the Government to warn us about consequences of choosing abortion via public campaigns? As far as I know, physicians have the duty to disclose all aspects (positive and negative) to women who require abortion, and this is common practice. Or the administration does not believe the medical doctors, and decided to their job too?

The second advertisement is even more stupid because it enhances the patriarchal stereotype.

The boyfriend is interested only in football (soccer). The girlfriend tells him that they are going to have a baby, and he responds that they have no [material] conditions to raise it. But look, she manages to persuade him by reminding him that they went out the previous night and spent a thousand Denars (around EUR 16 or USD 20). She then comes out with the key “argument” – that the child will most probably be male and look like him, after which he “lays down his arms.” I am still puzzled as to how exactly this advertisement explains the consequences of abortion? Possibly there will be a sequel with the husband and wife arguing in front of the child about having no money, with him accusing her of blackmailing him to marry her “shotgun wedding“-style. Chances are that such lack of abortion can produce psychological consequences.

In conclusion, it seems the current Macedonian Government challenges the right which Macedonian women (like all women from the other former Yugoslav republics) acquired during socialism, a right denied to millions of other women world over?

Government's population policy boils down to having or not having a child. All other elements are inconsequential. The conditions in which these children are born are irrelevant, the quality of their schools and kindergartens is not important, nor whether the parents are emotionally and psychologically ready to raise children. It is only important to give birth to the kids, no matter what they turn into. They'll be ours anyway.

Prof. Mirjana Najcevska, human rights expert, reacted [MKD] shortly afterwards:

The Government’s feeble-minded campaign to misinform and manipulate the public [MKD] to limit one of the rights that women of the world fought so hard to gain—the right to abort as a right to choose—has to be challenged and opposed by the gynecologists, pediatricians, internists and all other medical professionals who have the (metaphoric) balls and who are not in awe of the [ruling political party] VMRO-DPMNE.

Alongside the “arguments” emphasized about the abortion, the Government needs to inform about all the consequences of pregnancy and birth, like the most frequent complications

[…]

Not to mention that the full anesthesia required for cesarean section, hemorrhoids, permanent sterility, the harmony of hoses for lasting hormonal disorders, chemical changes, hair loss, stretch marks, cellulite, infections during lactation, infections at delivery (10 dead mothers during 2010 [in Macedonia], against zero due to abortion)…

Translator and culture promoter Jasna Shoptrajanova-Vrteva stated via Facebook (reprinted with her permission):

Yesterday I read the statistics from 2009 – there were 24 abortions per every 100 births. What kinds of dullards are so illiterate about contraception?? This shows that instead of stigmatization of abortion or introduction of religious or quasi-religious blabbering (from what I hear from parents-believers whose children choose religious education at school) we need sexual education. Or it does not have to be only about sexuality, let it just be health education – about the importance of proper nutrition, sports, and prevention of STDs and unwanted pregnancy.
The current approach makes me think that the Idea is to stigmatize sex in general, except as a means for breeding.

Journalist and blogger Biserka Velkovska published an article [MKD] entitled “A thousand for a baby, you get chauvinism for free” in Nova Makedonija daily, relaying reactions from the blogosphere. It included a statement by human rights activist Irena Cvetkovic:

It would be normal not to promote abortion. However, the point of this campaign should be reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies, which can be done with another kind of campaign, but also with introduction of sexual education, providing state subsidies for contraceptives, de-stigmatization of oral contraception. Reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies would reduce the number of abortions. Besides, this campaign coincides with the Macedonian Orthodox Church’s request for constitutional changes in regard to defining marriage [as the union of man and woman only – in effect forbidding homosexual marriages], and all this looks like just another campaign to divert the public attention…

Dejan Velkoski offered “expert analysis” [MKD] of the first video from a viewpoint of a fan of Arsenal football club:

…According to parameters from the background sound, we can realize that… it's an Arsenal game. The commentator mentions [Adebayor] and [Flamini] (therefore the game had to take place before latter’s retirement in Italy), and [Al Habsi] as a goalie (meaning, the game was against Bolton). The mention of the 2:2 tie reveals that it was the most exciting game of 2008, Bolton-Arsenal, when the game was decided in the last seconds of the extra time, with final 2:3. Therefore, the amazing drama from the commercial took place on March 29, 2008, Saturday, around 17:30.

It is clear that the kid is already born and by far either malnourished or adopted by some other happy parents, or is in an orphanage. Why? When the girl persuades the guy that conditions are irrelevant, because they spent a thousand Denars in a bar that will be used for diapers, it becomes obvious that besides a lack of amenities, she also lives in a world of her own. Since after going out they had no money to buy condoms, one can deduce that their entire monthly entertainment budget is 1,000 Denars. Maybe they can buy diapers with that, but then the baby doesn’t have to eat, gets vaccinated, go to a doctor, and of course does not need clothes, accessories or toys. (You can estimate how long it can survive with just diapers.)

[…]

Realism in the commercial equals zero. An Arsenal fan cannot be persuaded about anything in such a short time frame. A Gunner can argue with you (even when he’s obviously wrong!) for days, without resolving anything. On the other hand, I can see why they chose an Arsenal fan. If they chose a [Tottenham] fan, they would have him breaking through the door after hearing the words “We’re gonna have a baby.”

I also have a dilemma: why is the girl persuading the guy? As a woman, she has the right to decide whether to have the baby or not. In a natural setting, his opinion is irrelevant. What he has to say is if he would stay by her, whether he would ask her to marry him (for the wrong reasons!) or whether he would switch to Tottenham (i.e., run far away).

If there’s any message to this commercial, than it is that two immature individuals, without any conditions to raise children, as a rule, make a totally wrong decision. First they’ll lock themselves indoors forever (not having the 1,000 Denars to go out once a month), but will ruin the life of the innocent child…

NGO H.E.R.A. and the Macedonian Association of Gynecologists and Obstetricians appealed for the government to cease this harmful campaign and

• to raise public awareness about oral contraception
• to improve conditions for safe motherhood
• to continue to guarantee the constitutional right of choice
• to introduce and implement newly presented protocols for safe abortion
• to introduce mechanisms for improved social and economic life of the future parents
• and to introduce sexuality education in schools.

Ping.mk aggregated more reactions [MKD]. Notably, female right-wing bloggers remained largely silent about this campaign, and female politicians from the government coalition also avoided speaking about it in public.

In the meantime, the government's campaign replaced the above videos with clips containing messages such as ‘If his mother aborted baby Beethoven, we would not have the Ode to Joy now.’

This post is part of our special coverage Global Development 2011.

2 comments

  • DJT

    Translation: “Muslim Albanians are outbreeding us! Everyone, have more Slavic Christian babies!” Sigh.

  • jasna soptrajanova

    my comment was not really about the government campaign, it was about The Idea, promoted by religious groups and magazines alike: woman’s place is at home or around the shops, and sex should be satanized, except for breeding purposes. i am virtually sure that intimidating campaigns (it’s a sin), work equally well as connect-the-dots manuals (designed to make everyone fell sexually inadequate). it takes a lot of sanity to fight that sin/competitive sport approach.
    and it happens everywhere, not only in macedonia – just look at the recent georgia (usa) bill.
    i am sure we all against abortion, really, that we do not wish it to anyone. but we are for the right to abortion to still exist, and for other measures which would render it obsolete – measures i mentioned, sexual education, availability of contraception, teaching boys and girls about sexual responsibility and respect.
    by the way, it turned out that the figures that horrified me were actually an improvement – that, before dropping to 24 abortions per 100 births, it used to be 60 abortions per 100 births – something is very, very wrong, but is also tackled from the wrong side, in my view.

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