Promoting Life and Family to Solve to Eastern Europe’s Crisis

Stemming from low birth rates, high abortion rates, and a culture that generally eschews the traditional family, the impact of population shrinkage coupled with an aging European society is having a dramatic impact on many aspects of European life, including the economy . Indeed, the current demographic crisis in Europe is the result of an unprecedented cultural crisis caused, inter alia, by the triumph of materialism and individualism and their corollaries: extensive use of birth control and the disintegration of the family unit. In fact, it is obvious that the cultural, demographic, and economic crises that Europe is facing are interconnected: the cultural crisis leads to the demographic one and ultimately to the economic crisis.

It seems that some countries are starting to understand that these crises must be addressed in a comprehensive manner through confronting the cultural roots of the demographic and economic crises. Russia and Hungary, for example, are turning to the solution of promoting pro-life and pro-family public policies.

In April 2011, the Russian government released census results confirming a long-running demographic crisis: Stemming from dismal birthrates, high mortality rates, and an astronomical abortion rate – over a million per year – Russia’s population dropped by 2.2 million (or 1.6 percent, to 142.9 million) since the last census in 2002. In 2004, Russia had the world’s highest abortion rate of 53.7 per 100 women, according to United Nations survey. 44.7 % of pregnancies end in an abortion. As a result, Russia’s fertility rate is only 1.4 children per woman—far below the 2.1 needed to maintain the existing population. Russia can hardly afford anymore over a million abortions per year.
In Hungary , the problem is identical as 31% of pregnancies end in an abortion and abortion concerns 44.8 % of women. As a comparison, China has the same rate of 31% – despite its compulsory one child policy. Romania, Estonia and Bulgaria also have similar figures, above 30%. Obviously, those States failed to protect the prenatal life of their people. As a comparison, Poland in 2007 had less than one abortion per 1,000 pregnancies, including the abortions abroad.

For many years in Europe, a pro-family, pro-life policy was taboo. Still nowadays, immigration is viewed as the only viable answer to Europe’s demographic crisis. For example, the recent “Report of the Group of Eminent Persons of the Council of Europe” on “Living together in 21st-century Europe” asserts that “Europe’s demography, with a steady decline of the number of working-age people in proportion to those who need support, makes it inevitable that more immigrants will be needed over the coming decades.” Immigration may compensate the demographic decline of Western Europe, but there is no immigration toward Eastern Europe. Eastern Europe cannot expect its population decline to be counterbalanced through immigration.

Hungary is taking a particularly bold approach by embracing pro-family and pro-life values specifically within the text of its new Constitution. Its fundamental text states that “Hungary protects the institution of marriage between man and woman, a matrimonial relationship voluntarily established, as well as the family as the basis for the survival of the nation. Hungary supports child-bearing.” The new Constitution also, inter alia, affirms that “Everyone has the right to life and human dignity; the life of a fetus will be protected from conception.”

Implementing this new political orientation, and addressing its huge abortion rate, the Hungarian government launched a daring pro-adoption media campaign in May of 2011. The posters, placed on Budapest public transport vehicles and in stops, encouraged women to offer their children for adoption instead of choosing abortion. The advertisements featuring an image of a fetus read: “I understand if you’re not ready for me yet, but give me up for adoption instead – Please Let Me Live!” Shamefully, under the pressure of pro-abortion activists, Mrs. Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Justice, called on Hungary to stop the campaign and remove all of the posters printed. This is shameful when we consider the shocking number of abortions in Hungary.

In Russia there are clear signs that the government is also moving towards pro-family policies. Russia’s rules on abortion are much more liberal than most other European countries. Abortion in Russia is freely available during the first twelve weeks of gestation, as well as at any point during the pregnancy in a large number of cases. Taking serious steps to tackle these issues head-on, Russian lawmakers, with the support of the Russian Orthodox Church , are currently working in concert with doctors, sociologists, and economists to draft legislation aimed at reducing Russia’s one million plus abortions annually. This draft bill will be discussed in the following weeks. It proposes introducing more precise safeguards and criteria for access to abortion, limiting the free “on demand” abortions at government-run clinics and requiring prescriptions for the “morning-after” pill. It also requires married women seeking an abortion to acquire their husband’s permission and for teenage girls to obtain consent from their parents. In addition, the draft bill suggests introducing a mandatory waiting period of forty-eight hours to one week for abortions—depending on the length of pregnancy. In addition, women seeking to have an abortion would read and sign a statement detailing the possible negative consequences that may result, including “the onset of infertility.” The bill also requires women six weeks pregnant or more to view their embryo or fetus on ultrasound, hear its heartbeat, and engage in counseling.

Through these new criteria and safeguards, Russian legislators may bring Russian law up to a standard on par with other European States, which also contain such criteria . Russia’s proposed legislation may face some criticism, but it complies with the current European Court of Human Right’s jurisprudence. In the recent case R.R. v. Poland, the court reaffirmed once again that if a State decides to allow abortion, it has “procedural obligations”, i.e. the State has to properly organize and control the access to abortion, taking into account not only the interests of the mother, but also of the society and even of the unborn. In this regard, the court noted that a “broad margin of appreciation is accorded to the State as regards the circumstances in which an abortion will be permitted in a State.” The same rule applies regarding euthanasia . In several other cases, the Court also emphasized that the States have the positive obligation “to take appropriate steps to safeguard the lives of those within its jurisdiction.”

The Parliamentary Assemble of the Council of Europe has recently also adopted a more family-friendly attitude: two resolutions have recently been adopted. In the first resolution, entitled “Investing in family cohesion as a development factor in times of crisis”, the Parliamentary Assembly “takes the view that demographic changes, low birth rates, population ageing and women’s increasing participation in the workforce are some of the factors which are driving societies to invest in human capital by adopting dynamic family policies.” In order to make State’s policies more “family-friendly”, the Assembly encourages the states to consider, inter alia, “providing families with adequate support, when necessary, on the ground that the family is a social asset which generates important benefits for society”.

Another example of this emerging family-friendly trend can be found in Mr. Latchezar Toshev’s recommendation and report answering the Group of Eminent Persons of the Council of Europe. In that recommandation, the Parliamentary Assembly called for member States to “support regional and local policies to strengthen public services in order to bring about a truly family-friendly society and to develop intergenerational relationships within families”. The explanatory Report supporting the recommendation, elaborated by Mr Toshev also affirms that the “demographic crisis, which is also one of the outstanding issues for Europe, could be addressed by pro-family and pro-life policies”.

This is precisely the purpose of the upcoming “Moscow Demographic Summit: Family and the Future of Humankind”. This Summit, organized by the World Congress of Families with support of Russian government will take place at the Russian State Social University on June 29-30, 2011. The Russian Duma officially welcomed delegates to the Summit writing a letter of support. The Russian Orthodox Church, through its head, Patriach Kirill, also voiced its support to the summit’s attendees

Today Europe faces a demographic crisis that requires a cultural remedy. Increasingly the answer becomes clear: a culture that esteems the covenant of marriage and the sanctity of life must be re-embraced if Europe is to experience any lasting positive change to its demographic and economic crisis.

[1] See Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1767 (2010) The Demographic future of Europe and Migration
[2] See Russian Census Results Show Continuing Demographic Crisis, http://www.cdi.org/russia/johnson/russia-population-demographic-crisis-688.cfm (last visited 15 June 2011)
[3] See Russia May Ditch Liberal Abortion Laws (http://www.newser.com/story/119799/orthodox-russian-church-lawmakers-seek-to-rein-in-abortion.html)
[4] http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/ab-hungary.html
[5] http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/wrjp334pd.html
[6] Report of the Group of Eminent Persons of the Council of Europe, “Living together, Combining diversity and freedom in 21st-century Europe”. Council of Europe, Strasbourg, April 2011.
[7] The Parliamentary Assemble of the Council of Europe (PACE) Resolution 1767 (2010) on “The demographic future of Europe and migration” says the same.
[8] Id.
[9] See EU Asks Hungary to Stop Anti-Abortion Campaign (http://blogs.wsj.com/emergingeurope/2011/06/10/eu-asks-hungary-to-stop-hungarys-anti-abortion-campaign/).
[10] See (http://ca.news.yahoo.com/eu-wants-money-back-hungarian-anti-abortion-campaign-160835867.html).
[11] See (http://ca.news.yahoo.com/eu-wants-money-back-hungarian-anti-abortion-campaign-160835867.html ).
[12] i.e. cases involving a risk to the life or health of the mother or severe fetal abnormalities. Moreover, abortion is legal up to the twenty second week of pregnancy on certain social grounds, including imprisonment, rape, or spousal disability or death.
[13] Orthodox Church spokesman Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations, told a committee of bill drafters, “I hope that very soon we will live in a Russia without abortions.” Hieromonk Dimitry Pershin, head of the Information and Publishing Directorate of the Synodal Youth Department, advocated prioritizing the care of pregnant women. See (http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/legislation-to-limit-abortion-proposed-in-russian-parliament/).
[14] See Russia May Ditch Liberal Abortion Laws (http://www.newser.com/story/119799/orthodox-russian-church-lawmakers-seek-to-rein-in-abortion.html).
[15] See Russia’s church, lawmakers want to limit abortion (http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-05-31-russia-abortion-01_ST_N.htm).
[16] See (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/10/world/europe/10iht-abortion10.html).
[17] For instance, in Belgium women are required to have six days of counseling prior to an abortion and must check in with a doctor to monitor their health in the weeks after the procedure. In Finland, women seeking abortions are provided with information detailing the significant effects of the procedure. Also, abortions are only performed in hospitals, and it is illegal to perform abortions in clinics. Austria and Cyprus do not provide routine abortion procedures in state hospitals, and abortions are not paid for by the government health system. In Denmark and Poland, written parental consent is required if the woman seeking an abortion is a minor.
See http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/population/abortion /
[18] In the ruling Haas v. Switzerland (ECHR, 20 January 2011, no 31322/07) about assisted suicide, the Court ruled that the risk of abuse inherent in a system which facilitates assisted suicide cannot be underestimated (§ 58). The Court concludes that the restriction on access to the lethal substance was intended to protect health and public safety and to prevent crime (§ 58).
[19] ECHR, 9 June 1998, L.C.B. v. the United Kingdom, n° 23413/94, § 54.
[20] Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1720 (2010), Investing in family cohesion as a development factor in times of crisis.
[21] Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1912 (2010).
[22] See Living together in 21st-century Europe: follow-up to the report of the Group of Eminent Persons of the Council of Europe (http://assembly.coe.int/Main.asp?link=/Documents/WorkingDocs/Doc11/EDOC12631.htm)
[23] See (http://www.profam.org/press/wcf.pr.110425.htm Last accessed June 9th 2011).
[24] The letter states: “The issues discussed at the Summit – consolidation of the family, raising moral standards, and studying all the factors contributing to a higher birth rate and lower mortality rate – are very important for our times and require close attention of society as a whole.” See Russian Duma Welcomes Moscow Demographic Summit, June 29-30 (http://www.sacbee.com/2011/06/26/3729320/russian-duma-welcomes-moscow-demographic.html).
[25] “since the creation of the Universe the family has a special purpose, [and] by renouncing it the human race endangers the very foundation of its own existence.”[25] The Patriarch observed that the aim of the Summit is “to defend traditional family values and to analyze the world’s demographic problems. This forum stands up for inviolability of human life, it speaks out against abortions, so-called same sex ‘marriages,’ euthanasia, drug addiction and alcoholism.” Id.

Grégor Puppinck, Ph.D., Director General of the European Center for Law and Justice, a Non-Governmental Organization in Strasbourg, which took part into the case Lautsi v. Italy. The author is expert at the Council of Europe and takes part in the Committee of Experts on the reform of the Court.

This article courtesy of  Turtle Bay and Beyond and is used with permission.