Popular medical discourses on birth control in the Soviet Union during the Cold War: Shifting responsibilities and relational values

Yuliya Hilevych, C. Sato

Research output: Chapter in book/volumeChapterScientificpeer-review

Abstract

In themid-1950s, when the firstmedical tests of the pill started in the West, abortion was re-legalized in the Soviet Union. Although at first glance these events seem to be unrelated, in the subsequent decade the confrontation of “abortion versus the pill” created probably one of the most significant disputes in the national population policies on both sides of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. This chapter zooms in on Soviet stances on birth control by addressing the evolution of popular medical discourses surrounding the medicalization of birth control during the Cold War. Drawing on a Foucauldian analysis of biopower, we illuminate how responsibilities concerning birth control were assigned to and shifted between medical practitioners and ‘ordinary’ men and women from 1955 to 1975. The analysis is based on nearly one hundred articles published in the popular Soviet health magazine “Zdorovie” [Health], which was the only available periodical source containing professional advice on birth control methods until the 1980s. The main argument arising from this study is that after having re-legalized abortion (1955), the Soviet state sought a means to regulate fertility that would not have as negative an impact on fertility rates as the then increasing abortion rates were believed to have. This effort led to doctors being made the main gatekeepers of birth control during an unofficial anti-abortion campaign in the 1950s, and encouraging natural methods of birth
control as part of spousal cooperation in the 1960s. At the same time, birth control in the Soviet Union had to be as effective as the US birth control pill, especially after the pill was introduced in 1960 in the West, and easily controllable by the state, as eventually intrauterine devices (IUDs) appeared to be in the 1970s in the Soviet Union. Like abortion, IUDs allowed doctors to easily supervise women, which would not be possible with the birth control pill. We suggest that relational values around birth control emerging on the two sides of the Iron curtain informed this Soviet biopolitical struggle. In contrast to the verbalized “Kitchen Debate”, it was a latent yet apparant hegemonic struggle in the private sphere of everyday life, the roots of which can be traced back to the Cold War.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChildren by Choice? Changing Values, Reproduction, and Family Planning in the 20th Century
EditorsAnn-Katrin Gembries, Theresia Theuke, Isabel Heinemann
Place of PublicationBerlin
Publisherde Gruyter
Pages99-122
ISBN (Electronic)9783110524499
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Publication series

NameWertewandel im 20. Jahrhundert 3

Keywords

  • birth control
  • soviet union
  • Cold War

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