Does the Patriarchate of Constantinople Support Abortion?

16 June, 2020

On June 9, 2020, an online edition, Georgia and World published an article headlined “Serfdom of Washington and Fener,” which, among others, highlighted the issue of the Athenagoras Human Rights Award. To demonstrate that the Patriarchate allegedly betrays Christian values and is under the influence of the United States, the article provides a fragment from the interview with Ukrainian cleric Ilya Zelensky, where the latter notes that the Award is mainly presented to the Americans supporting abortion (among them Joe Biden). According to Zelensky, it means that the Patriarchate of Constantinople supports abortion.

Ilya Zelensky: “The Patriarchate of Constantinople apparently supposes that Biden’s declared position on allowing abortion and killing newborns is traditional and Christian, and the human race does not consider such murders unusual.” 


Joe Biden at awards ceremony

The article published by Georgia and World is manipulative. The Award is presented annually to a person who has consistently exemplified by action, purpose and dedication concern for the basic rights and religious freedom of all people. The Patriarchate of Constantinople and the organization presenting the award (Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle) are strongly against the abortion. The purpose of the article is to portray the Patriarchate of Constantinople as a non-Christian force. The issue has been widely circulating on pro-Kremlin media since the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople granted autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. 

Who are recipients of the Athenagoras Human Rights Award?

In 1986, the National Council of the Order of St. Andrew/Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America established The Athenagoras Human Rights Award. The Award is presented every year to a person or organization, which has consistently exemplified by action, purpose and dedication, concern for the basic rights and religious freedom of all people. The Award was named after the late Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras I.

The Award is presented annually to an organization or 1-2 persons. Among its recipients are: U.S. President George Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush; former President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev; U.S. Vice President Joe Biden; Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Archbishop Anastasios of Albania and others.

Is the Award presented to the supporters of abortion?

It is worth noting that the Award has nothing to do with the issue of abortion. Georgia and World cites Ukrainian cleric Ilya Zelensky as saying that presenting the Award to Biden means that the Patriarchate of Constantinople supports abortion. 

The Award is presented by the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America, an organization under the Patriarchate of Constantinople. It is against abortion. After New York State adopted a new abortion law, allowing abortions up to the moment of birth, the organization strongly condemned the law as “a regression.” 

It is also worth noting that Joe Biden has no declared position on abortion as claimed by Georgia and World. His attitude towards abortion frequently changes and it is especially notable ahead of the 2020 presidential elections. Biden’s change of position is mainly related to the law and legality rather than his personal views about abortion. During the vice presidential debate in 2012, Joe Biden stated that he accepts his church’s (Catholic Church) position on abortion, but refuses to impose it on others. 

The Athenagoras Human Rights Award has also been presented to other persons, who are against abortion. For example, George H.W. Bush did not support abortion personally. In 2014, the Award was presented to President Donald Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow, who is also an outspoken critic of abortion. He is affiliated with a politically conservative organization, American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). The latter is the author of a lot of petitions against abortion. 

What is the attitude of the Patriarchate of Constantinople towards abortion? 

Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I has assessed the issue of abortion on several occasions. In the book “Conversations with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I,” which offers the Patriarch’s opinions on a range of issues, Bartholomew has a liberal position on abortion in cases, when, for example, the life of the future mother is in danger or she has been raped. Bartholomew says that in such case, “the woman needs help, needs reconciliation, needs the healing of her body, of course, but also of her soul.” The Patriarch of Constantinople considers other reasons women get abortions unacceptable.

Prepared by Irakli Iagorashvili
Regional Network of Media Literacy Lab