One of the insidious aspects of the Romanian Communist regime was its brutal intrusion in the private lives of its citizens, which climaxed (no pun intended!) with the birth control measures initiated by dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1967. The regime needed a young labor force to power its forced industrialization program, as Romania was still recovering from the human and economic losses of the Second World War. Additionally, Ceausescu’s rule took on an increasingly nationalistic stance, as he dreamed of a “great” Romanian people. “Great”, of course, meant as many pure Romanian ethnics as possible, while other ethnic minorities (Jews and Germans in particular) were “encouraged” to emigrate to their motherlands (but about this topic, in a future article or in one of our upcoming tours).
Decree 770, introduced by the Communist Party in 1967, soon after Ceausescu took office, was essentially an anti-abortion law with many dreadful short-term and long-term consequences for the Romanian people. The decree severely punished any attempts by women to conduct an abortion (either in a public hospital or at home), as well as any medical personnel who would assist them in this attempt. The only exceptions were “medical emergencies”, i.e. when the life and well-being of the mother or the baby would be threatened by disease or medical complications when the woman would be over 45 years old, when she already gave birth to 4 children, or when the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. These exceptions were very clearly documented in the law. Decree 770, coupled with the fact that contraceptives became virtually nonexistent on the free market (and were later officially banned), led to a massive baby-boom in the late 60s and early 70s.
The Communist propaganda backed all this with sex education that would brainwash young girls into believing that child-birth was their patriotic duty. Mothers who had at least 4 children were awarded different kinds of medals and titles (“Hero Mom”), and were often portrayed as a role model for other women. They also received financial benefits for every extra child they would give birth to. The measure was coupled with a “single’s tax”, essentially a fine applied to any adult who chose not to marry. Living in a relationship without being officially married was also frowned upon by the Communist authorities, for whom the stereotypical family had to have a happily married father and mother with at least 4 children.
As many families were reluctant to having a large number of children, due to the precarious living standards and the imposed labor mobility (workers would be “assigned” to a factory, and not have a lot of say in choosing their employer), the measures of Decree 770 had to be imposed by force. Women were subjected to a regular examination by the gynecologist every 6 months or so, and public hospitals had to report very detailed statistics about pregnancy and births. These statistics, as well as any decisions to conduct an emergency abortion had to be reviewed and vetted by the Police; otherwise, doctors could easily be sanctioned (sometimes, with prison sentences) for conducting illegal abortion.
Despite these measures, illegal abortion became prevalent. Sometimes, it would be assisted by doctors in perfect secrecy and in exchange for a significant bribe. In other cases, the abortion would be conducted by the woman herself or by acquaintances with no medical background, which could easily lead to other medical complications or even death. Illegal abortion in Communist Romania also inspired the winner of Palm D’Or movie “4 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days” (trailer below):
The baby-boom generated by Decree 770 also generated several long-term social and economic problems. As Communist Romania was struggling to pay its entire external debt in the 1980s, the growing population (which passed the milestone of 23 million citizens in 1988) was putting a lot of pressure on the economy, which was unable to provide proper housing or even basic goods. Families with a lot of children often failed to provide proper education and care, and many kids ended up in orphanages or simply living on the streets of big cities after the collapse of Communism. “Children Underground” is a heart-breaking Romanian documentary on this topic, and was filmed on the streets of Bucharest in the early 1990s.