(AFP) – Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill on Tuesday signed a petition calling for a legal ban on abortion, the Church said in a statement.
The Patriarch met anti-abortion campaigners and signed a petition to be handed to President Vladimir Putin urging a ban on abortions.
The Patriach’s signing of the petition apparently represents a hardening of the Church’s position as it has previously only called for a ban on state-provided abortions without a medical necessity.
The Church said in its statement that the wording of the petition, which calls for “the end of legal murder of children before birth” was agreed with its commission on family and protecting motherhood and childhood.
The petition says the signatories “demand legislative amendments” to ban “surgical” and “drug-induced” abortions and the morning-after pill.
One of the pro-life groups behind the petition, Orthodox Volunteers, posted photographs of Kirill signing the petition on its social networking site.
The Church said the Patriarch thanked and blessed the campaigners at Tuesday’s meeting.
In May the Patriarch called abortions “truly a national catastrophe carrying away the lives of more than 1 million of our fellow citizens every year.”
So far the petition has gathered more than 300,000 signatures, one of its initiators, the head of For Life pro-life group, Sergei Chesnokov, wrote on Facebook.
He said the campaigners hope to gather 1 million signatures and plan to hand in the petition to the president’s office.
In Russia, where Church and state are technically separate but Orthodox Christianity has a powerful voice, abortions are carried out frequently.
Just under one million legal abortions were carried out by state hospitals in 2014 according to the latest available government statistics.
But experts say the real number is considerably higher as this figure does not include procedures done at private clinics.
Recently conservative politicians have increased calls to legally limit the number of abortions.
Conservative lawmaker Yelena Mizulina last year submitted a bill that would ban abortions in private clinics and only allow them to be covered by state healthcare if the pregnancy threatened the woman’s life.
But parliament refused to back the bill, with Russia’s number three politician, the speaker of the upper house of parliament Valentina Matviyenko, calling it “extremist.”