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The Priest at the Forefront of the Russian Anti-Abortion Movement (Fr. Maxim Obukhov Invu)

A leader in the Russian anti-abortion movement explains what techniques actually help convince a woman not to commit an abortion

His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as Russian officials, have recently been addressing demographic issues and decreasing populations in their speeches. The topic of centers of crisis pregnancy, the practice of pre-abortion counseling is touched upon with new force in the Orthodox media. We turned to Father Maksim Obukhov, the head of the Orthodox Medical and Education Center Life with questions about what a crisis pregnancy center is, who goes there, what pre-abortion counseling is and its principles, what real help is in saving the lives of unborn children.

- Father Maxim, you and your organization have almost 20 years of real pro-life experience. How did such centers appear in Russia? What is their story?

- In Soviet times, abortion was easy. Then there was a different life, a different ideology, and the Church did not have the opportunity to actively fight against abortion. In the USSR, termination of pregnancy was allowed after the death of Stalin - in 1953, in most Western countries - after the Second World War, and in the USA the right to “choice” was given to women in 1973.

Centers of crisis pregnancy - a purely Western invention. They began to appear in response to the legalization of abortion and its spread. In Europe and the New World, the situation was different, in contrast to our country: religion was not banned, therefore such a form of counteraction to abortion as crisis pregnancy centers could exist and carry out active work.

In Russia, there was no such experience and could not be, Soviet laws forbade organizing material assistance, that is, in parishes it was impossible to raise money for charity, to help fellow citizens.

In the early 1990s, the Church had the opportunity to work to preserve the lives of unborn babies. Our organization was one of the first to engage in this systematically. We had our own printing house, and we distributed millions of leaflets - we provided information to the whole country and even neighboring countries.

Speaking about the history of centers in our country, you need to understand that in the early 90s there was a very difficult economic situation in Russia, for the organization of some kind of social work it was necessary to attract resources that we did not have. Protestant missions began to appear in Russia to help pregnant women in difficult situations. There were just one-time attempts to provide assistance.

Western missions were based on support from abroad, and the difference in exchange rates played a big role: the money transferred “from there” meant a lot here. And maybe their work was somewhat successful, but not long-term. Our organization has decided to open a permanent center for crisis pregnancy, a fund for the protection of the family, motherhood and childhood, which lives and continues to function. 

The countdown has been going on since 2000, I wrote guidelines, based on the existing experience and the experience of Western colleagues. These brochures can now be found in both paper and digital archives; in 2007 another methodological work was published, authored by father Alexei Tarasov from the city of Volzhsky. She tells in detail how to help during a crisis pregnancy, how to talk with people who are addressing. We have opened a hotline. And during the first two years it became clear what was going on. Though with difficulties, but there are positive results! Gradually, centers began to appear in different regions of Russia. For example, the city of Volzhsky (there was led by father A. Tarasov) and Ivanovo (Elena Yazeva). Although some attempts were more successful, others less successful, nevertheless, if we summarize everything, then from 2002-2003 there was an increase in the number of centers of crisis pregnancy.

“How can you convince a person of something if you yourself hardly believe in it?”

- How did the Russian Orthodox Church react to the creation of the center?

- Then we were supported by Bishop Sergius, the head of the synodal charity department, the predecessor of Bishop Panteleimon Shatov. Every year we held congresses of employees of crisis pregnancy centers to exchange experiences. We shared our experience and materials, literature, people came to us who wanted to organize such a center at home. Yes, there was some increase in counteraction to abortion, although everything went quite difficult. And this is not surprising, the country has just begun to emerge from the 1998 economic crisis. We also opened a crisis pregnancy helpline that has been continuously operating for 19 years. Then other hotlines, crisis pregnancy hotlines, opened by other organizations, began to work. The trend continued. After the arrival of the new leader (Bishop P. Shatov) in the synodal charity department, the policy of supporting the crisis pregnancy center was continued. To date, there are several dozen such centers. The exact number is difficult to say, because now began to take on the functions of crisis pregnancy and other charitable organizations. But I must say that the work of the centers based on the Church is more successful. And this is logical: the people who work there are driven by their faith and beliefs. Otherwise, how can you convince a person of something if you yourself hardly believe in it?

- “What is in my name? ...” How did such a name appear - Center for Crisis Pregnancy?

- The name for the organization is an important detail, and we have discussed this question: how to name, which of the existing approaches for the name to use. "Center for Crisis Pregnancy" is a tracing-paper from the American realities. And this name very accurately reflects the activities, goals of organizations. It’s immediately clear from the sign: for urgent help in case of problems and difficulties, you should contact here. The second name is the protection of motherhood, we took it from the social concept of the Russian Orthodox Church.The fight against abortion is inseparable from measures to protect motherhood. It contains a more positive connotation. But in fact, both names speak of the same thing - the salvation of unborn children.

Also introduced is the term as pre-abortion counseling. During their work, some features of the development of this idea on Russian soil were revealed. This activity is the subject of attention of the hierarchy. The Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church several times drew attention to the importance of this work, and it is even included in the reporting: parishes, dioceses must report how and to what extent pre-abortion counseling is carried out, or it is simply a form of social service without forming a separate organization.

“The living word remains important”

- What methods are the basis of the center and how is the work organized?

- There are three main methods of work - education, charity and legislation. In the first place I put explanatory work, enlightenment, and the rest is the consequence of the first paragraph.

And when we change places, we fail. We clarify and change public opinion and legislation.People are more friendly and warmer about us and are ready to support centers of crisis pregnancy. Gradually, this is followed by changes in legislation.

What is outreach? These are documents in electronic form, video materials, brochures. But the living word, of course, has more weight. Despite the fact that now there is the Internet, everything can be seen, read, still a living word remains important.

There are different organizational forms, and they depend on capabilities. The simplest is one person with a phone in the room at the diocese or at arrival who is responsible for working with women in difficult situations. And these are not ordinary people who work at the centers - they are ready to spend their time and energy.

Other options may increase depending on the capabilities, it all depends on the administrative resource and support. In the zero years, we also talked about the possibility of working in medical institutions - this is stated in our guidelines.

For our country, a more acceptable experience is German. In Germany, although abortion is permitted, the principle of public policy is to protect the life of an unborn child. And for this, a filter is created there - pre-abortion counseling, through which everyone who wants to have an abortion must go through. Israel has a slightly different work experience. There, abortions are also allowed there, but women must overcome a large number of bureaucratic obstacles before the operation (created again by the state to protect the lives of children). Abortion patients cannot avoid numerous medical procedures, commissions, tests, and analyzes. This process is exhausting and is paid out of pocket of the woman herself. We have something in between, and different government policies are being pursued in different regions. And again, one approach in a metropolis, and another approach in a small town. And we act on the basis of different financial opportunities. Recently, a remarkable trend has emerged as state support.State grants are issued, thanks to which it is possible to support centers of crisis pregnancy.Several helplines work. Our helpline has been operating since 2000, with 800 - with free calls in Russia since 2001, there are about five of all federal helplines. Separately, I note that to conduct such activities it is not at all necessary to organize a legal entity, with all the details, bureaucracy, upholstery of thresholds and paperwork.

The argument “Church does not allow abortion” does not apply

- To dissuade a woman from abortion - any means are good. What strings hit to affect a woman?

- Our important principle in pre-abortion counseling is not to expect religiosity from women who have come to us. That is, the argument “the Church does not permit abortion” does not apply.Because if this logic worked for them, then they would not have come to the idea of ​​getting rid of pregnancy. And we work with those who plan this. The thought of abortion occurred to them; they see abortion as a way out of a difficult situation - which means that our reasoning is very complicated for them. You can, of course, talk about religion, but basically other arguments work. It is necessary to approach from the other side: to explain that it is harmful to health, to appeal to universal concepts. To say, for example: do we feel sorry for the kitten to throw out or drown? And to drive the puppy out, there is even a society for the protection of animals. Why are we throwing the child out? And, of course, the awakening of maternal instincts. This is harder. This also works, but very often in pregnant women who have an abortion, there is no maternal instinct, otherwise they would not have tuned in to an abortion operation. But it is important to remember that these instincts wake up after the birth of the baby. They were not, were not, and the baby was born, mom begins to care for him - instincts appear. And with breastfeeding, she begins to develop what should develop - a natural, normal phenomenon. A woman who holds a child in her arms reveals what is inherent in nature itself. And the maternal instinct begins to work in our favor.

- What determines the effectiveness of pre-abortion counseling?

- There is one universal principle - the sooner the consultation is held, the higher its effectiveness. Ideally, immediately “catch” a woman after a pregnancy test. At least publish a helpline number, information about the center on the package or the test itself. But seriously, it is best to carry out this work before two strips appeared on the test in order to set people up for a responsible attitude to the emerging life. Among the working methods, the principle of accompaniment is important, and it will be necessary to take for granted that most of these cases in themselves are social pathology. Therefore, we often encounter abnormal, unnatural situations: a break in social ties, suspicious relationships, deviant behavior. These women need attention and accompaniment more than money. And we are not always ready for this.Sometimes you need a deep accompaniment - from a year or two years, or even for a longer time. Sometimes it is necessary to have housing, for example, unfortunately, someone is kicked out, someone is denied housing, and they themselves cannot provide for themselves.Especially in the issue of housing, it is difficult in a metropolis, it is difficult to take such, because expensive housing, housing costs are high.

- What factors would you single out as the most important during pre-abortion counseling?

- Conscience of the consultant and his attitude to work. If a person speaks and approaches the matter formally - this is one thing, and if an employee of the center is on fire, sick, a completely different result. Of course, efficiency is increasing.

Another factor that increases the effectiveness of the crisis pregnancy center is the qualifications of employees. The higher the qualifications, the more children will be saved.Therefore, since 2000, we conduct annual training consultations, seminars for employees, and publish brochures.

There is another factor - the internal state of a woman, but we cannot influence him. Her upbringing, personality traits, environment. Do not forget that the man, the father of the child, should play a big role. He must say: do not have an abortion. Just one phrase, but how much it means! By the way, men who provoked an abortion or remained silent should repent and confess, because the removal of the father of the child pushes the woman to have an abortion. If he supports the birth of a child, then there is a high probability that his word will be the main one.

Also, the doctor has an important and decisive word. Doctors make a big mistake, taking even a neutral position and all the more negative, thereby pushing for abortion. But the truth is that the trend is better now, there are doctors who are struggling to dissuade from the criminal procedure.

There is, of course, a material factor. But I would not place it not only in the first, but also in the second and third places. Let an important factor, but not the most important. Still, the country is not in such a state that children starve and die of hunger and cold.

And there is a psychological factor on which decision making also depends. What does it consist of? Fear. This fear of the unknown, and the fear of losing the father of the child, and the fear of condemnation, the fear of poverty. This is the lack of readiness for motherhood, and perhaps infantilism. Although we have already said that with the birth of a child, maternal instincts wake up, love for a child, and these fears pass away. It is important for the consultant not to blame the woman who came to the center, but rather to stand on her side and provide support in order to remove these and other phobias.

- According to my own observations, I notice that there are more large families, this is the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the speeches of Orthodox doctors. And what remains the most difficult in the work of the center, in pre-abortion counseling?

- A very serious problem that has not yet been resolved is housing. I can’t understand why a country with such a huge territory as Russia has homeless families with many children. Now I have a family with 8 children under control, we are trying to raise money for a house, but we don’t have such a resource, the process is very difficult, we cannot send them to the dugout, they need a good full-fledged house ...

Let's see what is the difficulty here and how to find a way out? Russia is a huge country, but the population is not evenly distributed. About 60% of people live in conditions of overpopulation or even in excess of overpopulation, extreme compaction. 20 megacities, dozens of cities with very high prices for housing and rent, but there is work, economic life there. And there are depressed areas where there is cheap housing, but there is little work. Among single mothers there are many homeless people. Of course, they live somewhere, but they do not have their own housing, no property. And I think that this issue is being resolved on a national scale. Of course, neither the state nor charitable organizations can buy meters in megacities, even in regional centers it is too expensive, but maybe we will come to the point that we will provide all interested mothers,finding themselves in a difficult life situation, housing in district centers or urban-type settlements. I think that this goal is achievable. In the end, we are talking about thousands of women with children, not millions.

We have villages, villages are dying out, housing is being freed, cheaper, sold for almost nothing. It is possible to build inexpensive houses using well-known modern technologies. It is inexpensive and fast. For our country to provide several thousand families with free housing per year, this is a fully feasible and feasible task. Moreover, there are 10 billion rubles in the budget. unnecessary - this is the money that the state pays through our taxes for abortion and the questionable IVF operation. If these funds were used for the construction of low-cost housing for those who gave birth and in need of a roof over their heads, then they would lead to better. The arithmetic is simple: one house - 1 million rubles, and for 10 billion rubles - 10 thousand houses a year would receive. But in fact, unfortunately, it turns out that 10 billion rubles are thrown out to nowhere.

“The public attitude towards us is changing”

- How do people generally relate to such activities?

- Recently, we have been observing that public attitudes towards us are changing for the better. When we started in 2000, we were not supported, we seemed to go against the tide, and a little shy away from us, we were squeamish. And there was some tradition: if you are in this organization, then you are an outcast and your place is in the trash. Gradually it is possible to reverse this opinion.

And for our activities, for the effectiveness of counseling and assistance, the support of public opinion is imperative.

I emphasize separately that it is impossible to judge whether a child is out of wedlock or not, he is raised by a single mother. Let the many situations in which women who turn to the center find themselves are wrong. But the child is not to blame for anything! Moreover, we have a difficult demographic situation, and the life of every child, including an illegitimate one, is of value.

I know that you are helping not only Russian women, but also pregnant women from neighboring countries ...

- Yes, among those who come to us, there is such a difficult category - these are migrants. The situation is complicated by the fact that we have strict immigration laws. We often hear: how many “newcomers” we have. Yes, Russia is the second country in the world in terms of the number of migrants (the first is the USA, the third is Germany). And, despite this, our migration legislation is not just harsh, I would even say repressive. Obtaining citizenship is very difficult. But life is life, women come here to work or study, meet with men, relationships begin, they become pregnant. As a result, stateless women find themselves in a difficult life situation. But you and I are not in Ancient Rome or Sparta, where a “not so” newborn can be drowned like a kitten, or thrown out, or sold into slavery. We live in a civilized societyand you have to solve the issues of emigrants awaiting replenishment. We encounter difficulties: the birth of a child in Russia sometimes does not give the right to citizenship to either mother or baby. (For example, in the United States, any baby born becomes a citizen, with the exception of the children of diplomats). It would be good and right, if only selectively, to recognize such women and their children as Russian citizens. Or they would give them a residence permit.

And so what are we facing? Imagine: a woman has become a mother here, and her visa has expired. So, she is illegally in the country, and she has a baby in her arms. He does not understand anything and is not at all to blame. And what to do? Mother to send back to the host country, where she is not expected, in fact, throw somewhere, bring to despair?

And there are many such examples. So much trouble with citizenship when working with a crisis pregnancy. But it seems to me that our country is large, and these emigrants with children are not a billion people, it is still not such a huge number, and we are fully able to assimilate, arrange and integrate them into society.

“The people we discouraged from abortion are always grateful to us.”

- Is it possible to roughly say how many women manage to convince not to have an abortion?

- About 10% of discouraged women, but this figure is conditional, maybe less or more, unfortunately, the latter is less common. If one out of 10 who came to us manages to dissuade one, this is already a good result. This justifies our activities, which means that it is worth doing. If 1 million abortion women were covered by their effective counseling (approximately as many women decide on a murderous operation), they would have received 100 thousand births per year!

We have already talked about the relationship between effectiveness and duration of counseling. The sooner, the more efficient. Two strips are one thing, and a woman thinks, ponders, in her environment one person is for preserving pregnancy, the other is against, and the third is simply removed. And she sits and weighs how to be. And another thing - she already mentally killed the child in herself, decided to get rid of him. Of course, with such a woman it will be more difficult to consult. But still, something can be done. And any little thing can play a role. Up to the point that the woman goes on an abortion and accidentally heels our leaflet with a heel, picks it up, reads it, and then turns around.

During the work of pre-abortion counseling, there was one clear trend. The people we discouraged from abortion are always grateful to us. No matter how hard it was later with the child, they are always grateful. Nobody has ever said, they say, in vain we obeyed you, it was necessary to get rid of pregnancy.

Here is a fresh example: a married couple with an adult child comes up to me and says: “Look, please - our child!” I don’t understand what it is: well, a family with a child. “Many years ago, you persuaded us to continue pregnancy. And so he grew up! We are very glad that we have it! ”, They explained. And there are many such cases.

- What positive and negative examples would you give?

- A girl from a difficult family, a difficult situation, a tense situation in the house. At about age 14, she accidentally received these leaflets. Not only read with interest, but also imbued with ideas for preserving the lives of infants. Let her life not just work out, not as maybe she wanted. But then she gave birth to three children and did not have a single abortion! Now her children are adults. I still keep in touch with her.

And there are negative cases too. I have one friend, a single mother with three children, she has trouble - there is no housing. I’m trying to help somehow, but there is not enough maternity capital to buy housing, if only in a remote village, but she can’t live there with her children. True, I believe that this is an example both positive and negative. Still, she gave birth, saved the lives of children, they love her, she loves them, but the situation is difficult because of the housing issue.

One girl calls me (I don’t give names, I have no right) and very much asks me to inform her mother about the interesting situation by phone. Well, I had to. Mom literally explodes, splashes out everything that is possible on me, although I'm just an intermediary. She ended her hot speech with the words: “This is a scandal, let her have an abortion urgently!” Mother drives her daughter out of the house, and she still gives birth.

How do you think the situation is developing? First, the mother pushes her only daughter to kill the unborn baby, that is, her first grandson, and then some change occurs with her. I learn that a young woman with a child was still left in her mother’s apartment. And the young mother complains to me by phone and asks what to do with my grandmother? From the side of the grandmother, she is hyper-custody, she does not leave her grandson, tinkers with him, does not let go of her hands, cares, takes care. Here's a case: until recently, this woman insisted on an abortion, and now she is so attached to her grandson that literally does not let anyone in to him.

Bad case. This is a woman with mental illness. And left to fate, she is in conflict, cannot create a family, and the reproductive function works - she has a child. At some point, she had to deal with juvenile justice, there were checks from the guardianship authorities, then the process of removing the child ... People with minor mental disabilities cannot manage their lives, they often end up in crisis situations and something always happens to them: they get sick, get injured out of the blue, they lose something, forget, they have fires, in a word - they are in a desperate situation. Plus, they often give birth without a husband (it is worth noting that children can be mentally healthy). Such women cannot change, and those around them must accept them as they are. They need some accompaniment, "leading" through life.

And a number of unpleasant stories related to migrants. This is still an excessive strictness of the law, I see how they fight, they suffer, and I see no reason why they should not be given if not Russian citizenship, then at least a residence permit. Because deportation with a child is cruelty, you need to find some options, tricks, so that there are no such situations.

I believe that there are more positive examples. As a rule, the life of women who contact us is improved after the birth of a child. They do not live in a vacuum, somehow you can get a job, find a job. And there are always good people. Of course, some are embarrassed to ask for help, but basically there are always a lot of good people who share something, help so as not to embarrass.

- What is the future of crisis pregnancy centers?

- I see that there should be a lot of them, in each regional center, in each diocese. So that every woman who finds herself in a difficult situation would have a certain door where she could knock and ask for help. It is important to reach this door within one day, that is, either in its city, or in the nearest regional center. I would like to have coverage, to have a network, at least in the minimum configuration - one activist providing assistance.

A person’s life before birth is just as valuable as after birth. Not like in the Constitution: a person takes rights from the moment of birth, and for us, a person takes rights and gains the dignity of a person from the moment of conception! And, based on this principle, we take any measures that contribute to the preservation of life and respect for dignity. Three methods: education, legal protection, and charity. And all three are supported by the Church, including at the level of official documents. There is a corresponding provision on the educational part, the ideology of protecting the child before birth - it is Christian and there are initiatives of the Church aimed at legislative protection of the child before birth. Thanks to the Church, it was possible to achieve the appearance of the Days of Silence, which facilitate pre-abortion counseling, and abortions on social grounds have been canceled.Charity is also supported by the Church. Repeated speeches by His Holiness the Patriarch, bishops, priests and not only in word but in deed. All this activity of creating centers is entirely in the hands of the Church. While the state effective system of centers for crisis pregnancy does not exist. The most effective is the one that is initiated and supported by the Church.

The center of crisis pregnancy is the most difficult, because since 2000 the growth in the number of centers is rather slow. Because it’s a lot of work, organizational. And this is despite the fact that the centers have always been supported by the synodal department.

Mistakes of Pre-Abortion Counseling Centers

- What mistakes would people who are going to open such a center warn? What shortcomings would you like to fix?

- Error opening centers in megacities. It is very expensive. It is better to go beyond the boundaries of megacities where there is no such demographic pressure, population density.

And from such large urban large agglomerations as Moscow, St. Petersburg, Volgograd and so on - even further.

The disadvantage is that we are developing slowly. It is desirable that each district center has a crisis pregnancy center.

A disappointing mistake - duplication of efforts, this is when the same work is done by different organizations. What does this lead to? Resources are wasted.

I would also emphasize that political speculation, the use of the topic of abortion to build up a political rating, to get into the government, to educate the electorate are a mistake. As well as the exploitation of the topic of abortion by marginal, even sectarian groups. Moreover, there are some near-Orthodox non-canonical associations that also oppose abortion, but most often this is not real help and work, but self-affirmation.

Among our shortcomings - we are not so closely studying the experience of Western countries. And this is systemic work for several decades. Even if the experience is often negative, it’s interesting anyway, as it makes it possible to highlight errors and shortcomings and avoid them in the future.

Refusal of help - and this happens. Women are treated the most diverse and find themselves in different circumstances: without a passport, nonresident, foreigners. We have to bother a lot, they refuse to help. The employees of the center are also living people - they burn out, get tired, the resource is depleted, and this leads to the fact that they refuse to help.

Speaking of warnings, I would not advise "contacting" with the monasteries. For a simple reason, monasteries have a different function. Not to accept single mothers, not to engage in diapers - even on the basis of canons, this is not correct. Work on crisis pregnancy, pre-abortion counseling and service in the monastery are too different tasks and requirements.

- What is the state policy?

- There is something to work on. The first thing to do is to legalize pre-abortion counseling, to make it mandatory. And this does not need some billions of rubles, national programs, you just need to change some settings in the work of state institutions. Make this a standard procedure. Something similar is being introduced in the regions, but at the central level, so far there has been little progress. When Prime Minister D. Medvedev was president, he saw our posters, and his wife supported us too. He mentioned our work in the Address to the Federal Assembly. It is necessary to complete, to make the bureaucratic procedure work, as a function of the state institution. So that the one who does this does not overcome obstacles, does not seek permission, does not prove something, but works calmly.

- A variety of women turn to the center, how to resist conviction, moralizing?

- When we are engaged in counseling, helping women in crisis situations, it is important to avoid conviction. Do not blame each other, nor those people who are in trouble. We were all wrong. You can even conduct such a logical experiment. Someone says or thinks: I am such or such Orthodox, correct, I have a handkerchief tied, I observe posts, I submit notes. Well, if you dig into the history of each family, you will surely find some link with a difficult situation in the pedigree. But then, despite the problems, this child was born, maybe our ancestor, and thanks to this we live. In church literature, descriptions of the life of the righteous, there are difficult cases that go beyond tradition, so the work of the centers is not a fight against enemies, but help. Not a conviction. And then there are people who first fight against abortion,and then they begin to fight against those who are against abortion, but who are fighting wrong. And what is the result? Swara.

Text: Alexandra Gripas


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