HELSINKI, July 25, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Finnish Interior Minister Päivi Räsänen has caused a small uproar with comments comparing abortion to “butchery” and saying that animals are better protected under the law than unborn human beings.   

Räsänen is now being blamed in the press for a sudden increase in resignations from the Evangelical Lutheran state church. 

“Animals may not be slaughtered in a painful manner, but it’s not permitted to even discuss the painfulness of abortion,” said Räsänen, a physician who also serves as leader of the Christian Democratic Party, at a Lutheran Church event in Kankaanpää. 

She described abortion as a “silenced taboo and a Pandora’s box,” adding that “the consequences of opening this up are feared.” 

She said there is no stage of pregnancy where abortion should be allowed. “An abortion-age child is not a numb piece of tissue, rather an individual that can feel pain,” she said. Räsänen also lamented that Finland and Sweden are the only countries in Europe in which physicians are not allowed to refuse to participate in abortion. 

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“We have to consider whether we have the courage to act in the face of general public opinion or norms, peer pressure, and sometimes even the law, if these contradict the word of God,” Räsänen said. She added, “We must obey God rather than men,” when the law conflicts with conscience.

The next day, Finnish newspapers reported that 960 people had formally quit the Lutheran Church in response to her comments. 

Assignation of blame for church-leaving is a common weapon against socially conservative politicians in Finland. In 2010, Räsänen appeared on a television program speaking against “same-sex marriage.” The next day, the media blamed the comments – in which she explained that she holds homosexual acts to be sinful –  for a sudden flurry of 40,000 church “resignations,” as tracked by the secularist website www.eroakirkosta.fi. 

The tactic is effective since registered members of Finland’s two official churches, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Finnish Orthodox Church, are required to pay church taxes amounting about one per cent of their annual income. Those wishing to leave a church can now do so online, and waves of such protest resignations frequently follow comments by politicians, costing both government and the established churches tax income.  

Lutheran Archbishop Kari Mäkinen, the first Lutheran archbishop in the country to voice public support for same-sex “marriage,” wrote on Twitter, “One may agree with her or be of a different opinion, but her views should not be confused with the church’s position. No more than the opinion of any other church member you might meet on the street.” 

In an interview with the Finnish national broadcast company YLE, Räsänen expressed surprise at the fuss over her comments in the media. She said that of the thousands of emails she has received the majority were positive and supportive. 

“They were concerned that devoted Christians who feel that there is not total freedom to practice religion and be open about your views in this society,” she said. 

She added that she is not the only member of government to have qualms about the lack of conscience protections, pointing to comments made by Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, a Social Democrat. Erkki wrote on his blog that health care workers could be justified in using civil disobedience to refuse to participate in abortion. But Tuomioja, an atheist and socialist, added that this should not include refusal based on religious belief. 

“The conviction leading to this [kind of action] can only be based on universal ethical human norms, not on directives handed from above, as in the case of the Bible, Koran, or Mein Kampf,” Tuomioja said. 

Räsänen also told YLE that her home has been vandalised, but said she stands by her beliefs and wants to retain responsibility for church affairs, which fall under her portfolio as Interior Minister. 

The newspaper Savon Sanomat ran a poll showing that 55% of 1,100 respondents want church matters removed from the Interior Minister’s portfolio. The number, however, fell to about 10% of Christian Democrat voters.