Ukraine's Femen storms cathedral in abortion protest

Ukraine's Femen storms cathedral in abortion protest

KIEV - Agence France-Presse
Ukraines Femen storms cathedral in abortion protest

Topless activists of Ukrainian feminist movement Femen hold placards opposing a draft law to prohibit abortions as others strike the bells after they barricaded St. Sophia's cathedral bell tower in Kiev. AFP PHOTO

Members of Ukrainian feminist group Femen on Tuesday barricaded themselves in a cathedral bell tower for a topless protest against a Church-backed bill that would ban abortions.

The women climbed the bell tower of Kiev's central Saint Sophia cathedral and stripped off their tops and rang the bells in a protest against what they called "a criminal plot between the Church and the State".

They also lowered a black banner reading "Stop" from the ornate blue-and-white tower of the cathedral, a former Orthodox Church which is now officially a museum of religion and belongs to the state.

The Uniate Church, the third largest confession in Ukraine, and representatives of the Roman Catholic Church in March urged parliament to ban abortions.

The Orthodox Church is in principle against abortion but so far refrained from entering the public debate.

Opposition deputy Andriy Shkil has submitted a bill to parliament banning voluntary abortions, with a few exceptions. He said this would boost the birth rate after the population fell from 52 to 46 million in the last 12 years.

"A million couples in Ukraine are infertile, 868,000 of those due to the women's infertility, which in 80 percent of cases is caused by voluntary abortion," he claimed in a note to the bill, which has yet to be debated.

Abortion is currently legal in Ukraine up to the 12th week, and in certain cases up to the 22nd week of pregnancy. The proposed bill would apply to all abortions except special cases allowed by the law like medical emergencies.

While the number of abortions reached one million per year in the 1990s, the rate last year fell to 156,000 versus 492,000 births, according to the health ministry.

Femen's slogan is "We came, we undressed, we conquered." The group specialises in topless activism, supporting women's rights and fighting prostitution and trafficking and it travels widely, recently appearing in Davos, Milan and Minsk.

In December it held an anti-Kremlin protest outside a Moscow church. A month later Russian all-women punk group Pussy Riot tried to sing an anti-Vladimir Putin song in the same church, with three members now facing jail.