Fr Alexis Tarasov says that sometimes talking and listening to someone is all it takes
Having written a blog on Monday about recent headlines in the abortion debate and ending with a quotation from a mystical insight of G K Chesterton’s, it is good to follow it up with this heartening story related by Thaddeus Baklinski on LifeSiteNews: that a Russian priest has saved 2,000 babies from abortion. It seems that Fr Alexis Tarasov, an Orthodox priest in the Volgograd region of Russia, has been praised for his rescue work by the Russian Ministry of Health. Fr Tarasov’s counselling initiative has reduced the abortion rate in his area by 25 per cent in the last five years. In a joint venture by the local authority and the Orthodox Church, a Centre for the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood has now been opened. As Fr Tarasov explains, its focus is simply to provide women with trained and sympathetic listeners who will also tell them about the abortion procedure and its potential effects on their health and offer them practical help.
Tellingly, he comments that “Quite often, the only thing needed to persuade a mother from this terrible decision is simply to talk to someone with an open heart.” According to Nikolai Zarkin, head doctor of Volgograd’s Central Maternity Hospital No 2, “Today, all women seeking abortions are sent by gynaecologists for consultation with the psychologist working at each prenatal hospital.” He added that as a result, 20 per cent of mothers now refuse abortion. Meanwhile, Fr Tarasov has organised legal aid and clothing for the mothers when their babies are born, as well as housing. “It is essential to build homes and equip them so that women can live with their children until their housing problem is resolved,” he comments.
This story tells us so much: that one concerned and caring individual can do great good; that the authorities in Russia give their own support, not because of their religious beliefs but presumably because of the social problems associated with a shrinking population and the benefits of encouraging birth rather than death; and that hospital doctors also recognise the importance of an independent consultation with a psychologist so that pregnant women can have the time and space to reflect on their future.
This is very different from the forced birth scenario of the late and brutal Communist dictator, President Ceaușescu, in Romania, which led to the abandonment and neglect of unwanted babies in state orphanages. It is also very different from the situation in Britain, where most of the thousands of abortions carried out every year are done by private clinics linked to the NHS, which have a vested financial interest in not trying to help vulnerable women seek a different option.
Fr Tarasov began his pro-life apostolate in his parish in the town of Voljsk, where he explains he spent hours talking to women who were considering abortion. He then expanded his work with visits to the local hospital. This was followed with the establishment of a crisis pregnancy centre. His dedication reminded me of an article I read some years ago about a humble Chinese man who built himself a shack next to a bridge over a gorge, in order to run out and stop people who were planning to use the bridge for a suicide jump. It seems he saved hundreds of lives in this simple way: by persuading suicidal people that he cared about them and that life was worth living.
Sometimes you have to cut through the red tape, the legal niceties and the conventions and just engage with someone face to face and heart to heart.