Georgia has begun thinking of banning abortions after influential Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilia II pitched the idea in his Easter sermon on May 5.
Many churches may be pro-life, but in this devotedly Christian country, which cherishes the church leader above any other public figure, words from the patriarch can carry as much power as papal bulls once did in Europe.
During his sermon, the patriarch called on the government to stop the “terrible sin” of abortion and “filicide,” aside from a few circumstantial exceptions. He blamed both Bolshevik “atheists” from the past and modern liberal philosophy for the prevalence of abortions.
Georgia tops the South Caucasus for abortions, with 408 performed per 1,000 live births, according to a study by the World Health Organization, the Caucasus Research Resource Centers reported. (By comparison, the European Union rate is 222.)
Georgian government officials, who cannot hold a candle to the patriarch in terms of public support, quickly gave the nod to the church on considering an abortion ban. Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili responded by saying that baby-boosting legislation is in order. He carefully suggested, however, that to improve the country’s bleak demographic situation, the main focus should be on economic incentives rather than abortions.
Among top officials, only Georgia’s female Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani ventured to express outright skepticism, saying that the ban could make abortion an underground business. She said that prohibiting informing parents about the sex of a future child is as far as she is personally willing to go as a way to prevent selective abortions, which favor boys.
With one eye on the country's modest population of 4.48 million, the patriarch has long pushed for Georgians to have more babies. After he offered to baptize every third child as an incentive, the church has been holding mass baptism ceremonies several times a year. Now, he has proposed to cash-strapped parents that, rather than aborting any additional children, they hand them over to the church’s care.
But gender researcher Nargiza Arjevanidze cautioned that Georgia’s Soviet experience actually illustrates the dangers of an abortion ban. A ban during the Stalin era "led to the rise of back-room abortions that often ended in health complications and even death,” she commented to EurasiaNet.org.
“Another ban could result in similar problems. Those who can afford it will travel to neighboring countries; others will resort to illegal procedures.”
The anti-abortion law will do little to reduce Georgia's high abortion rate, she said. Promotion of contraception and family planning, she added, is the real need.