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10 Ridiculous Government Attempts To Control Pregnancy
Since the first caveman knocked up his first cave wife, we humans have had an instinctive respect for pregnancy. In culture after culture, childbearing has been seen as a magical and noble thing beyond the laws of day-to-day life.
At least, that’s usually the case. But every now and then, you get a government that comes along and treats childbirth as just another situation they can project their insanity onto.
10Romania’s Enforced Baby Boom
Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu can be accused of many things, but hating children is not one of them. Under his guidance, 1960s Romania was transformed from a country approaching zero population growth into a baby-making machine.
This wasn’t achieved with the population’s consent. To ensure he had future generations of loyal Communists to call on, the dictator made pregnancy all but mandatory. Under draconian measures, childless men and women over 25 could be fined 20 percent of their annual salary, divorces were made impossible, and abortion became so illegal that police were sent to guard hospitals in case anyone tried asking for one. At the same time, contraceptives were totally outlawed. Those couples that still failed to produce children were hauled in by Ceausescu’s feared secret police and quizzed about their sex lives.
Propaganda also played a part. Getting pregnant became a patriotic duty, and competitions were organized between different counties to see which area could attain the highest birth rate. By the mid-1980s, the government was spending the equivalent to half its defense budget on encouraging baby-making.
One terrible side effect of these policies was a rise in backstreet abortions. Today, it’s estimated that over 10,000 women died during this period due to botched terminations.
9Ancient Sparta’s Hero Babies
We’ve told you a couple of times about maternal impression theory. Basically, it’s a pseudo-scientific theory that states an unborn baby’s growth can be influenced by things the mother sees. To the ancients, this was as self-evident as the existence of nymphs or Zeus, and required firm legislation to deal with.
Nowhere was this legislation firmer than in Sparta. Unwilling to have their women give birth to a bunch of weedy nerds, the city rulers passed a law that forced pregnant women to spend time each day staring at statues of heroic, manly men. As a result, it was thought that the children of Sparta would be born magically strong and brimming with courage.
This wasn’t the only time maternal impression theory influenced ancient law. One legend—possibly fabricated—has it that in 13th-century Rome, a woman gave birth to a child that looked like a bear. Immediately, Pope Martin IV ordered all statues and images of bears destroyed in case Rome was overrun by mutant-bear children.
8The GDR’s Bizarre Bargain
Under Communism, East Germany wasn’t exactly a freedom-loving and tolerant place. Aside from routinely prying into its citizen’s lives, the GDR also refused to allow people autonomy over their own bodies. Perhaps nothing illustrates this quite as starkly as a 1980 law governing pregnancies.
Under the law, any foreign women working in the GDR would be automatically deported if authorities found out they were pregnant. While this was bad news for many, it was catastrophic for Vietnamese immigrants. Because they came from a society that looked unfavorably on unmarried mothers, many felt they couldn’t return home. To cap it all off, abortions in the GDR were only available to foreigners when their lives were in danger. The solution: to begin threatening suicide if they were refused a termination.
It worked. By 1983, Vietnamese women threatening suicide in exchange for an abortion were so prevalent the GDR was forced to backpedal on their law. Instead of automatic deportation, pregnant foreign women were awarded the “right” to choose between termination and being stuck on the next boat home. This sorry state of affairs lasted right up until the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
7Qatar’s Insanely Strict System
By any standards, Qatar’s legally enforced definition of morality is frighteningly strict. Homosexuality can result in jail time, and drinking alcohol will result in a public whipping. Even expat workers frequently fall afoul of the country’s legal system, which makes its stance on pregnancy all the more terrifying.
Under Qatari law, anyone who has a child out of wedlock can go to jail for up to one year. Since this applies to foreigners as much as it applies to Qataris, any unmarried woman who turns up in the country pregnant better hope she doesn’t drop before leaving. It’s currently estimated that as many as 100 expat women a year wind up in Qatari jails simply for giving birth without a husband. Infrequent attempts to give birth at home and hide the baby have given rise to a further law that makes it also illegal to give birth outside a hospital.
For some women, leaving the country isn’t an option. Thanks to Qatar’s byzantine immigration laws, anyone wishing to work in the country needs a sponsor. Once you’re in the country, you need your sponsor’s explicit permission to leave again. Some sponsors refuse this permission when they discover their employee is pregnant. With abortion also illegal, it leaves the woman with no option but to go to jail.
6Japan’s Government-Sponsored Date Nights
In 2014, Japan’s birthrate fell to an all-time record low. With the total population expected to plummet by 30 million people by 2050, the country is in the grip of a full-blown birthrate crisis. In spring of 2014, the government finally decided to step in with a $30 million program to get young people meeting and mating.
The result has been billions of yen pumped into local initiatives such as konkatsu parties—large government-organized gatherings where young singles meet for the sole purpose of getting married and pumping out kids. Some state governments have gone further, setting up official dating agencies to try and get young people hitched. The Ibaraki prefecture has even asked its singles to (voluntarily) register for a gigantic database intended to match people up.
Japan isn’t the only Asian country to go to such lengths to get its population pregnant. In 2012, Taiwan announced a new scheme whereby the government would subsidize large companies to organize ”dating days” for their employees.
5Singapore’s New Building Regulations
Like Japan and Taiwan, Singapore is a country suffering from a plummeting birth rate. Evidently scared by the thought of a childless future, the government recently authorized the spending of $1.5 billion on measures to improve parenthood and fertility statistics through any means necessary. We mean any. Some of the money was spent on a series of educational cartoons offering advice on how to flirt and how to avoid awkward conversations while on a date. Other initiatives have included a patronizing “dating handbook” that advises single women, “If he lets you pick up the tab . . . RUN!”
Overt propaganda aside, Singapore has also been accused of using more subtle (yet no less ludicrous) methods to increase pregnancy rates. According to the BBC, the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority has recently moved to stop construction firms from building too many apartments designed for single people. Instead, more family and two-person apartments will be built, presumably in the hope that this will encourage homeowners to start procreating like crazy to justify all that extra space.
4Denmark’s Bizarre Hospital Plan
As we discussed earlier, maternal impression theory was considered respectable science for centuries. In the 17th century, it led to a serious proposal by the Danish government that would be hilarious if it wasn’t so simultaneously shocking.
The story started when famous Danish physician Thomas Bartholin began to take an interest in maternal impressions. Although he’s today best known for the discovery of the lymphatic system in humans, Bartholin believed in some seriously crazy stuff. He once wrote a paper on unicorns and concluded they probably existed. So, when locals started telling him stories of children with cat heads, and women giving birth to babies with the exact same deformity as beggars they’d seen, he naturally believed them. He even began to keep notes—notes that somehow got back to King Frederick IV.
Worried about the effect that malformed and disabled people were apparently having on Denmark’s unborn children, the King decided the only sensible solution was to lock them all away. He seconded a motion for a hospital to be built to keep deformed people off the streets in the honest belief it would stop pregnant women from bearing children with similar deformities.
3The Nazis’ Pro-Sex Policy
The Nazis’ program to increase German birth rates was odd even by their standards. From the late 1930s onward, the regime instituted a “cult of motherhood”—jaw-dropping in its propaganda. For starters, the term “family” was legally reserved for parents with four or more children. At the same time, highly fertile women were rewarded with military decorations and displays equal to returning frontline troops. Men of the psychopathic SS, meanwhile, were encouraged to support their childbearing partners by doing the housework.
When still not enough German babies were being produced, Himmler added new incentives. Single women of pure Aryan stock were invited to come to specially designed nurseries where SS men would get them pregnant, and they could deliver their baby in secret. To ensure there was enough sperm to go around, he ordered SS stormtroopers to father as many babies as possible.
As the war progressed, things took a darker turn. Rather than focus on pregnancy, the Nazis turned their attention instead to kidnapping Aryan children from occupied countries. Over 250,000 children may have vanished this way, as they were snatched from their families to help bolster the German race.
2India’s Pre-Marriage Pregnancy Tests
By Western standards, marriage in India’s central Madhya Pradesh state is already a strange affair. Every year in the remote tribal regions, the local government organizes something called the Mukhyamantri Kanyadan Yojna ceremony—a gathering where hundreds of locals attend a mass wedding. The aim is to get men and women from poor families married off, and provide them with a few basic wedding gifts (worth $150). However, no pregnant women are allowed to attend, and you better be sure the government enforces this rule.
In 2013, the Times of India accused the Madhya Pradesh government of ordering a mass pregnancy test before the wedding. Allegedly 350 women were forced to undergo an examination, with nine pregnant women banned from taking part in the ceremony, and forced to return their wedding gifts. Bad as this is, it isn’t the first time the Madhya Pradesh government has been accused of performing unwanted pregnancy checks. In 2009, 150 women were allegedly tested before they could take part in a similar ceremony.
1China’s One Child Policy is Really, Really Awful
China’s “one child” policy is perhaps the most infamous attempt to control procreation in history. Incredibly, it followed directly after a completely different policy dreamed up by Chairman Mao that encouraged women to have as many babies as possible. But, while China’s attempt to tackle population growth is something we’ve all heard of, few of us probably realize just how horrific it really is.
Rather than simply fining families that break the rule, the Chinese authorities go to insane lengths to enforce it. In 2013, the Guardian reported that women up to nine months into their pregnancy were being forced to undergo terminations, while those who are arrested for attempting to have an extra child are forcibly sterilized. In the countryside, military squads are periodically sent out to round up pregnant women and terminate their unborn children. Those who escape these random checks are often forced to spend the rest of their pregnancy in hiding—often camping out in the open in abysmal weather.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. That last link describes industrial abortion centers, baby murder, child trafficking, and plenty of other consequences of this policy too dark to go into here. In trying to control their citizens’ pregnancies and birthrate, the Chinese government has managed to be perhaps more insane and more evil than any other government in history.