Abortion in a strangely faithless Russia

OnionDomesFrom time to time, readers on the left side of the cultural aisle get upset with the GetReligionistas because of the amount of space we dedicate to abortion and other "Culture of Life" issues. We don't hide the fact that we all back traditional church doctrines on these matters, which is not the same thing as saying that we fit neatly into either political party. However, confessing the fact that you are a pro-lifer is just about all you have to do these days to be labeled a right-winger.

Anyway, it is impossible to talk about media bias research in the late 20th century and beyond without focusing on coverage of abortion (and now, issues if marriage and family). As recent elections have demonstrated, these cultural and moral issues are also linked to divisions between the two parties -- ragged divisions, but divisions nonetheless -- that often are linked to religious beliefs and practice.

If you talk about abortion and the news, you almost always end up talking about religion and the news.

Thus, as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I was very interested in that recent Los Angeles Times piece that ran under the double-stacked headline, "Abortion foes begin to make their case in Russia -- Doctors and politicians are quietly struggling to change the nation's casual attitude toward the procedure."

In many ways, it is a stunning piece -- full of the kind of candor, nuance and moral confusion that surrounds abortion in real life, yet rarely makes it into news coverage. Abortion was part of the fabric of life in the old Soviet Union and much of that numbed culture remains. Yet there are moral ghosts in the culture as well that reveal themselves in strange ways. Here is the top of the report:

Abortionist Marina Chechneva remembers the old-style Russian gynecologists who worked in state hospitals and churned out back-to-back abortions like Soviet factory workers. She remembers the women who "used to use abortion as a kind of vacation, because in the U.S.S.R., they got three days off from work."

These days, Chechneva is writing magazine articles about fetus development in hope of raising public opposition to abortion. After years of handling fetuses, she explains, she has come to feel a responsibility toward the unborn children.

"They should realize that what they're doing is already a murder," she said.

A fledgling antiabortion movement is beginning to stir in Russia. Driven by a growing discussion of abortion as a moral issue and, most of all, by a government worried about demographics, doctors and politicians are quietly struggling to lower what is believed to be one of the world's highest abortion rates.

Read on. In effect, abortion is still a means of birth control. Yet now, the government wants to see more births -- to prevent the demographic suicide that is affecting so much of Western and Easter Europe and surrounding cultures.

Yet how do you talk about morality in the new Russia? Well, how about a religious frame of reference? Can the "conveyor belt" of abortion -- an image from the story -- judged as sinful?

The decision to choose abortion shouldn't be so casual, according to Russian lawmakers.

"The spiritual position," said Natalia Karpovich, a leader of the State Duma committee focused on family, women and children, "should be that this is murder and the woman who does this commits a sin. Still, I want to stress it's a woman's choice."

Karpovich is among Russian lawmakers who've pushed for media messages casting abortion in a less neutral light. She also supports new measures meant to encourage childbirth by paying out cash bonuses and opening new day-care centers across the country.

"Like on packs of cigarettes or bottles of alcohol, advertisements for abortion services should be obligated to warn about the consequences," she said. "That they may result in infertility, that some bad changes may happen in the female organism."

So there are spiritual questions. But there seems to be a major voice missing, some major voice in Russian history, culture, literature and thought. The word Tradition -- with a large "T" as in ancient church fathers -- factors into this.

Now, I am not arguing that this voice is as powerful as it once was or that, in a post-Soviet world, it has regain strength and, tragically, integrity in all that it does. But how can one write a story about this topic without mentioning the Russian Orthodox faith and tradition? Read the story. Did I miss something?

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