UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)


The Bitterest Pill: The Biopolitics of Oral Contraception in Russia

21 October 2019, 1:00 pm–2:00 pm

Russian Contraceptive Pill

This event is part of the SSEES Research Student Seminar Series. Join us to hear SSEES research students discuss their projects. On the 21st October, Gary Lawson.

This event is free.

Event Information

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16 Taviton Street

The 60th anniversary of the approval of the first oral contraceptive will be in 2020. The pill’s convenience has led it to become the most common form of modern contraception in the Americas, Europe and Oceania. Yet, contraceptive use in Russia remains heavily skewed towards traditional methods, not just the entrenched use of abortion. Today, only 13% of Russian women use the pill, a figure that compares unfavourably to many other Western and post-Soviet states.

While abortion and other forms of contraception pre-date the USSR, the pill was developed during the Cold War. From the 1960s, the rapid development and distribution of the pill around the world required the Soviet Union to respond both internally and externally to this American invention. Successive Soviet and Russian leaders, supported by their respective political and bureaucratic elites, introduced policies and enacted laws specifically aimed at inhibiting the availability and use of the pill. These responses, together with the impact during the 1990s of the private sector and international civil society, continue to influence Russian women’s ability to equitably access the pill.

The biopolitics of abortion in the USSR and Russia has been examined extensively in academic literature. However, little sociological research focuses specifically on the pill; particularly, why usage remains comparatively so low and access so inequitable in contemporary Russia. Adopting a number of biopolitical perspectives, this research considers the historical and contemporary responses of successive Soviet and post-Soviet elites to the pill, as well as examining the intersection of the post-Soviet state with healthcare-oriented international civil society and the global pharmaceuticals industry in its supply.

About the Speaker

Gary Lawson

PhD Candidate at UCL SSEES

After a career in finance and healthcare, Gary completed an MA in Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics at SSEES in 2018. His research focuses on the politics of reproductive healthcare in post-Soviet Russia and its impact upon the country’s demography.