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Russian Orthodox Propose Measures to Reduce Abortion. Country Faces Dramatic Demographic Decline By Paul De Maeyer

ROME, JAN. 20, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has proposed to Russian President Dimitri Medvedev a series of family policies that would restrict access to abortion, reports the Agence France Presse. 

The proposals, which mark the first time the Russian Orthodox Church has suggested specific policies to the Russian government, were sent Monday, ahead of a meeting of the Council of State on the theme of the family.

Among other things, the patriarchate requests that the expenses of abortion no longer be covered by the health system (except in the case of danger to the woman's life); it also proposes the obligation to inform women about all the negative consequences of the interruption of pregnancy and hopes, moreover, for the introduction of an informed consensus and a time of reflection. The document of the Orthodox Church also suggests the creation of a "crisis center" in all obstetric clinics that would be staffed by counselors and religious persons. 

Aleksandr Verkhovski, of the Sova human rights center, told AFP that the partriarch offered "very moderate proposals, from a religious point of view," but affirmed that "the Orthodox Church, as Catholics, is categorically opposed to abortion, but in this address to the authorities, it counts on a compromise."

Population plummet

Already last June, the Russian Orthodox Church had launched an appeal in favor of more severe norms to reduce abortions in the country, in response to worries about the decreasing size of the population. On June 1, the archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin -- an influential figure close to Patriarch Kyrill -- was quoted by Reuters saying that "in Soviet times we were accustomed to abortion and to consider it an inevitable part of our legal reality with no way of turning back. But today we see that it is possible to turn back quite a bit."

According to the archpriest, even young people without ties to the Church, or with other religious institutions, wish to see a reduction in the number of abortions.

Abortion in Russia goes back a long time. In 1920, just three years after the revolution of 1917, Russia became the first country in the world to legalize the practice. Prohibited again in 1936 by Stalin (with the exception of some situations), abortion was reintroduced in 1955, about two years after his death. Less than 10 years after this date, in 1964, the highest level of abortions was recorded in the history of Russia or the then Soviet Union: 5.6 million.

The number of abortions began to drop in Russia over the span of the last decades. According to data of the Health Ministry, reported Sept. 16, 2003 by the BBC, in 1990 there were 3.92 million abortions, 2.57 million in 1995, 1.96 million in 2000, and 1.78 million in 2002. However, despite this decline, the level of abortions exceeded that of births in 2004: 1.6 million abortions as opposed to 1.5 million births (The Times, Sept. 24, 2005).

Along with other factors, such as the ruin of the health system after the collapse of the USSR and the excessive consumption of alcoholic drinks (especially vodka), the high number of abortions is at the origin of a dramatic demographic decline, begun in the mid 1990s, that is, almost immediately after the collapse of the USSR. In less than 20 years, the Russian population decreased from almost 149 million in 1991 to less than 142 million in 2010.

The effect of this demographic collapse is already visible in the educational system. According to data of the Ministry of Public Education, reported by The Times, since 1999, the number of school children fell every year by close to one million. In the 2004-2005 school year, there were 5,604 schools with only 10 pupils.

Without a drastic change of course, the tendency to decrease will continue and could lead, according to the projections of the United Nations, to 116 million inhabitants in Russia in 2050 (World Population Prospects: the 2008 Revision Population Database).