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Draper Fund Rep. 1983 Aug;(12):6-7.

Pronatalist policies in Eastern Europe and France.



Western European fertility rates dropped markedly during the 1930s, and several governments established pronatalist policies. The policies were shortlived as fertility began to rise again after World War 2 and government intervention no longer appeared warranted. In contrast the countries of Eastern Europe retained their relatively high birthrates until measures in the 1950s gave individuals, especially women, greater freedom of choice in childbearing. Divorce laws were liberalized following World War 2, and women's participation in the labor force became widespread. Most European governments, following the example of the Soviet Union, liberalized abortion laws as well, making safe, medical abortion available for social, economic, and medical reasons. Whether or not as a direct result of this legislation, the Eastern European nations experienced such a rapid decline in birthrates that governments, fearing further ramifications, decided to intervene. In 1966, for example, Romania decreed abortion to be illegal except for medical reasons or in the case of rape. Eastern European governments justified their actions by emphasizing their concern about longterm effects. They wanted to avoid the "aging" of their population and the risk of future decrease in total population size. The abortion restrictions were accompanied by widespread efforts to encourage contraception through education, information programs, and postnatal consultations. Incentives were also adopted, and there were adjustments in working conditions for women including longer maternity leave and the opportunity for young mothers to have extended leave. The government's goal is to encourage 2 child families with enough 3 or 4 child families to compensate for 1 child or childless households. Eastern Europe is not alone in its pronatalist policy. France has set similar policies into motion. If this is exceptional among Western countries, it is because French fertility declined about a century before other European countries. As a result France's population experienced a radical change in its age structure toward an older citizenry, and despite significant immigration, the population ceased to grow by the beginning of the 20th century. In 1920 the French government prohibited abortion and any promotion of contraception, but this act did not appear to have had a clearcut effect on fertility. In the mid 1940s a consciously pronatalist policy was put into effect. Laws regarding contraceptives were not liberalized until 1967 and abortion was not legalized until 1975. In Eastern Europe restrictive measures have assured a slight and momentary recovery, but it is unknown if they are sufficient to reverse the previous tendency of decline.

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