One of the most notable achievements of European society (for better or for worse depending upon your point of view) has been the separation of church from State during the evolution of the continent, and the resulting secular State.
For most European citizens, the Church is the Church and the State is the State and never the twain shall meet again given the consequences historically. No longer can the Church burn the heretics and non-believers who make up a sizable number of voters which no political party could afford to lose.
The Church remains, however, a significant social actor within most nations and is recognised and engaged with by the majority of States, be the governing party or leadership agnostic, atheist or of a different belief. It can be, and is, a significant NGO both arguing for or against specific political policy.
Generally the secular model works fairly well and is particularly noticeable during electioneering where a candidates faith (or lack or faith) is not a subject that features in any campaigning. Something one suspects Mr Romney would appreciate but it unlikely to get across the Atlantic very soon.
However the Church (of whatever brand) like all organisations has its positions, interests and needs which most States will listen too and accommodate where it fits with the governing party’s own position, interests and needs. State and Church therefore rub along together as best as they can whilst attempting to morally or politically lead the same flock.
Problems occur when the Church lobbies to create laws or to change laws which meet their position, but that large enough sections of a far less conservative society would strongly oppose to make the issue politically difficult for the State.
Ukraine currently allows abortion up until the 12th week of pregnancy and in extreme (one assumes medical emergency cases) the 22nd week of pregnancy. That is the law.
The Orthodox Church however has been lobbying hard and has managed to get some lawmakers to submit a change to this law on abortion, proposing the practice be banned in Ukraine other than for medical emergency reasons. It will soon come before the RADA for voting.
Now I am not interested in getting into the pro-life verses woman’s rights issues of the argument. Everyone has their opinion to which they are entitled. I intend to look at this from the difficult position of the State, the current leadership of which face an election in October 2012 and are now faced with a very difficult vote (should the issue be forced to a vote in the RADA).
The current government, when it came into power, vowed to increase the population of Ukraine having recognised the national shrinking demographic. (A continental issue not just one for Ukraine it should be noted.) Thus banning abortions unless medically necessary would be one way to possibly achieve a jump in birth rates and some form of demographic recovery. Vow kept.
However, the number of abortions in Ukraine has been significantly and consistently falling for the past 10 years. In 2000 there were 434223 abortions performed in Ukraine. In 2010 there were 176774. With such a steep downward trend in society, is there any reason for State interference when it is a trend both Church and State (for different reasons) would approve of? Whilst the trend continues, is this not a prima facie case for a State to leave well alone?
If acquiesce to the Church would get it on board in the run up to an election where the current government will struggle to retain such a sizable majority, if it hangs on to power at all (which it probably will), the Church, should it get such a legislative victory would undoubtedly sing the current governments praises and thus influence a reasonable amount of voters in the governments favour (either overtly or covertly).
At the same time, despite the fantasies propagated by marriage agencies about the “traditional values” of Ukrainian women, Ukrainian women are very emancipated and have been for a very long time. Who if not the women, rebuilt the USSR after WWII and 30 million Soviets died, the majority being men? The myth they sit at home and cook and pop out children on demand for the male head of the household is exactly that – a myth.
Therefore changing the law and banning abortion in all cases other than medical emergency (and any other specifically stated circumstance) could very well alienate a huge number of female voters which is a decidedly bad idea with an election looming.
There are then the casual effects to society to consider should this Church sponsored bill change the law. Many Ukrainian women would simply travel to have the abortion done and those who could not may well resort to back-street abortions with horrendous consequences.
Those that had children may very well give them up to orphanages which are already woefully underfunded.
If they kept the children the State has such a poorly funded social welfare system that they could not afford to stay home and neither could they work, removing any tax they did pay from the system and increasing the social payment burden in the process. That could increase numbers of child neglect cases and that, ultimately, could put increasing strains on the orphanages.
As the State cannot even make people pay their due taxes, finding and getting absent fathers to pay any form of maintenance is simply a non-starter. Those women and children in that situation now, rarely see any money from the absent father and the State does nothing to enforce payment or track the father down. If they could they would have far better tax revenues.
Is a generation of poor single parents and child poverty what the government sees as a sound policy when heading towards European norms? Unlikely.
Talking of European norms, in banning abortion (other than in statutorily stated circumstance such as medical emergency) which other EU nations would it have for company? Would the EU see such a move as a further back-sliding in human rights and womens rights in particular?
All in all a very difficult situation for policy makers to be in.
Protests about this proposed legal change have already started. FEMEN (as you would expect) have already been arrested for climbing the bell tower of St Sophia’s in central Kyiv, ringing the bell and going topless (as is their signature protest action). One has to suspect that should this legal change be seen to even remotely gain any traction the protests will become much larger.
Not a particularly nice thought for a sitting government with a major European tournament being hosted in 2 months time. Massed rallies by the collective European feminati sisterhood would be a major embarrassment.
Much, one suspects, will come down to how much the current government needs to give something to the Church in the run up to the election to influence the masses favourably, or alternatively, how much can be gained by the current government to publicly and noisily putting the Church in its secular place in order to win over a large part of the female voter base by standing up for their existing rights under the current law.
One to watch in the coming months.