The Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Head Mufti of Russia and the Children’s Ombudswoman support the removal of abortions from Russia’s mandatory health insurance, but officials and doctors say that a ban will only move the procedure underground.
On Sept. 27, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill signed "The citizen's petition for banning abortion." Promoted by conservative Orthodox activists, the petition supports the position that life begins at conception and reads in part: "We, citizens of the Russian Federation, speak in favor of terminating the practice of legally killing infants before birth."
The move by the patriarch has once again brought the controversial topic of abortion to the fore in Russian society.
It would be hard to call the patriarch’s support of the petition unexpected. Like many branches of Christianity, including the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church considers abortion murder.
In his Twitter account, journalist Ivan Davydov responded (in Russian) ironically to bloggers who were surprised or outraged by Kirill's words:
"Judging by the public's reaction, it seems that many expected the patriarch to speak in favor of a sexual revolution. He was really disappointing."
A ban, but not a ban
Immediately after the patriarch’s signature on the petition was announced, his press secretary, Alexander Volkov, made a statement tempering the move.
"This petition is not about a ban, but about removing abortions from the mandatory health insurance system," Volkov said, adding that Kirill “signed the petition in order to attract society's attention to the issue."
Vladimir Legoida, head of the Synodal Department for Church-Society Relations and the Mass Media, clarified the Orthodox Church's position to the TASS news agency: “The most important demand today is to have abortions removed from the mandatory health insurance system so that people who do not support abortions do not have to pay for them out of their pocket,” Legoida said.
Legoida also went a step further, noting that he hopes a future ban on state-funded abortions will become the first step towards a society completely free of abortions.
Allies against abortion
On the subject of abortion, Russia's official Christian and Muslim representatives agree. Chief Mufti of Russia Talgat Tadjuddin expressed his support for Kirill’s position, calling abortion "infanticide."
New Children's Rights Ombudswoman Anna Kuznetsova also added her voice to those calling for a ban. "The entire civilized world has long been speaking against the phenomenon of abortion; we support this position," Kuznetsova said, noting the importance and effectiveness of state policy in preventing abortions. According to Kuznetsova, last year 67,000 women were dissuaded from taking this step.
A dangerous move for women
The Russian Health Ministry, however, does not support either banning abortion altogether or removing it from the list of procedures covered under the mandatory health insurance system. Health Minister Veronica Skvortsova told radio station Gorvorit Moskvi (Moscow Speaking) that the introduction of limits on abortions could be dangerous for women.
"There are certain nuances that are related to the possibility of abortions becoming clandestine, especially for people with low incomes, for minors," said Skvortsova. According to her, the Health Ministry's objective is to prevent an increase in infant mortality and maternal deaths, which could appear if such restrictions are introduced.
Other critics of a ban on abortion echo Skvortsova’s statement that restricting the procedure will not end it, but only drive it underground, making abortions more dangerous for women.
Victor Radzinsky, president of the Russian Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that past attempts to ban abortions did not result in an end to the procedure. "In the Soviet Union abortions were banned between 1936 and 1955. People died from sepsis," Radzinsky said.
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