Easter eve anti-abortion drive in Russian Orthodox parishes
by Nina Achmatova

Russia’s pro-life movement launches a petition with the backing of the confessor of the Moscow patriarch. Starets Iliy wants to “collect a million signatures” to ban government-funded abortions in the public health system.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – On Orthodox Easter eve, next Saturday, a petition drive will take place in all Russian Orthodox parishes to defend embryos and ban abortions.

The Interfax news agency reports that the initiative is taking place with the support of Starets (elder) Iliy (Nozdrin), confessor of the Moscow Patriarch, and is promoted by the For Life Movement, which is counting on gathering thousands of signatures.

Traditionally, churches on Easter eve will be full of believers who come for the blessing of Easter cakes and eggs.

So far, "200,000 signatures have been collected,” said Starets Iliy. However, the “objective is to collect a million signatures".

On several occasions, Patriarch Kirill has called for the removal of abortion as a medical service offered in the public health system.

Russia has one of the highest abortion rates in the world. What is more, many women who do bring their pregnancy to term end up abandoning their children at the hospital right after delivery.

Until two years ago, Russia was seen as being in a state of “demographic coma”. Since then, things have slightly improved after the authorities adopted a number of measures to encourage parents to have more than one child.

One of these is called, the ‘maternal capital’ programme, which provides a one-time subsidy for parents who have more than one child.

To this effect, the Russian government is counting on the Russian Orthodox Church to back its policy of demographic revival.

The Church itself runs 29 crisis centres for pregnant women and single mothers with children. Last year, more than 5,500 women received some form of assistance at such facilities.

The Soviet Union was the first country to legalise abortion in 1920; however, the practice was banned under Joseph Stalin (from 1936 until after his death).

The Soviet dictator was keen on promoting births. With this in mind, the Communist Party gave awards and money to the more prolific couples.

Since the collapse of the USSR, Russia’s demographic decline has become overwhelming. Between 1992 and 2008 the population dropped by more than 12 million to about 143 million.

According to the United Nations, if the present trend persists, Russia will lose a fifth of its population, down to 116 million, by 2050.

The is due to a number of factors, most notably a poor diet that causes heart problems, a high levels of alcohol abuse among men, the spread of HIV/AIDS, and a high number of violent deaths.