Various anti-abortion groups in Russia launched a petition Tuesday calling for a total ban on abortion.
The petition seeks the recognition of the beginning of life upon conception and the legal protection of the embryo. Thus, it calls for a ban not just on surgical abortion but also on the use of abortifacient contraceptives and assisted reproductive technologies.
It has obtained the support of about 300,000 people. Sergey Chesnokov, head of the movement 'For Life' that pushed for the appeal, said they are targeting 1 million signatures so they can present it to Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin, AFP reported.
The petition was signed by Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, leading to reports that the church is taking a stronger position against abortion, as it previously campaigned to ban abortions only for cases that are not medically recommended.
However, the patriarch's signing of the petition is not an endorsement of complete abortion ban, clarified Alexander Volkov, head of the patriarch's press team. He said the patriarch signed the petition to draw attention to the church's appeal to remove abortion from the mandatory medical insurance.
"This appeal is not about prohibition, but an appeal on the withdrawal of abortion from the MMI system (mandatory medical insurance)," Volkov said.
Vladimir Legoida, chairman of the Synodal Information Department of the Russian Orthodox Church, echoed Volkov's statement, saying the patriarch's signing of the petition does not mean the church has a new position regarding abortion.
"The attitude towards abortions of representatives of all the traditional religions in Russia, and not just Orthodox Christians is very well known. It is a strict and unambiguous attitude," Legoida said.
Generally, priests have a negative attitude toward abortion, so when the patriarch signed the appeal, it was simply "an expression of his priestly and civic support," he explained.
Legoida reiterated the church wants to remove abortion from compulsory medical insurance because, by being part of the system, abortion is being perceived as the norm in Russia.
"We believe that the first step towards eliminating a phenomenon like abortion should be excluding abortions from the system of Compulsory Medical Insurance. This is our official position," he said, adding that those who do not approve of the procedure should not pay for it "out of their own money."
Russia is the first state in the world to legalize abortion, decriminalizing it in 1920. The abortion ban was imposed again during Stalin's regime. However, it failed to stop illegal abortions, and lawmakers legalized abortion again in 1955, according to The Moscow Times.
The public has accepted abortion as a social practice in the country, where it is used as a contraceptive option. Russia has the second highest abortion rate in the world next to China. Last year, official figures showed 930,000 abortions were performed.