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Life and lives: Gendered Quests for Innocence in Russian Orthodox Anti-Abortion Activism Luehrmann, Sonja


Based on a summer of fieldwork at a Russian Orthodox pregnancy consultation centre in St. Petersburg, this paper explores the gendered constructions of sin, responsibility, and virtue that are at work in post-Soviet appropriations of transnational pro-life activism. Abortion was the most accessible form of birth control in the Soviet Union, and the overwhelming majority of the pension-aged women who make up the bulk of Russian Orthodox churchgoers have had one or several abortions during their reproductive life. As religious revival and public concern over Russia’s “demographic crisis” make fertility control a contentious issue, a number of women – and some men – engage in anti-abortion activism as a form of penance for past abortions. When older activists exhort young couples to live by standards of virtue they can only wish to have observed themselves, Orthodox notions of sin and innocence gain potency through intergenerational interactions. While young women can maintain innocence by foregoing abortions and bearing children, the moralization of past reproductive choices puts a burden of critical memory on older women, investing them with a measure of political agency precisely as innocence eludes them.

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