Discussions on both abortion and the definition of marriage are foreign imports to Estonia aimed at artificially driving a wedge between groups in society, President Kersti Kaljulaid says.
Talking to ETV politics discussion show "Esimene stuudio" Tuesday, Kaljulaid said that: "This is an imported discussion which can be initiated and then fueled. I understand who is doing that and why, but what I don't understand so well is why this has led to a broader discussion within the coalition."
On the matter of abortion, Kaljulaid said: "We don't have these discussions [in Estonian society]. It hasn't mattered to us up to now, so don't try to make it an important issue for us."
Abortion was legalized in Estonia fairly early on in the Soviet era, and while the law was tweaked somewhat upon restoration of independence in 1991, has remained legal since then.
Opposition to abortion has been particularly strong in the U.S. in recent years, with the State of Alabama attempting to ban the practice via a law currently held up by legal challenges.
The issue came into sharp focus in Estonia this week after the coalition parties published their list of beneficiaries of so-called "protection money", with the largest single recipient being an NGO founded in August which has staged one anti-abortion march and which was provided with €141,000.
Kaljulaid called the move – made by all three coalition parties, Center, EKRE and Isamaa, together – a conscious policy and a signal to society as a whole, adding that the coalition had not tried to conceal that intention.
She said: "This is honest, transparent and clear, and is the most pressing issue the governing coalition wants to address. I hope this is very clear to the electorate as well. This is a common policy across the whole coalition."
While the three parties issued the protection money, which totals €6.4 million this year, jointly, it is likely each party has its own pet projects for the funds, usually regional in nature and comprising projects such as sporting facilities and church renovations.
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) did however say on Tuesday afternoon that a ban on abortion was not on the table in Estonia.
Speaking on Vikerraadio's "Stuudios on peaminister" show, in the context of the protection money grant to the NGO, called "Elu marss" ("March for life"), Ratas said: "As long as the Center Party is in government, we will by no means support an abortion ban in Estonia. I do not support an abortion ban in the Republic of Estonia."
President: Not true that one result of marriage referendum would be more or less legally binding than another
The planned referendum on the definition of marriage, due to take place in spring, also puzzled the president in terms of its possible outcomes.
Kaljulaid said: "Some people have gotten the impression that a 'yes' vote (to retaining the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman in legislation, as it currently is in the Family Law Act – ed.) is somehow more binding than 'no' (i.e. changing the law – ed.), but that can't be the case."
"It's not rational and is somehow not honest with the public to say 'yes' cements something. The referendum is bigger than just one question, and it has nothing to do with that one question. In fact, there is a debate about whether each individual is equal to another. This is the debate."
"This (the definition of marriage – ed.) has not been a main battle ground either, but [the referendum] has created a void which is now being filled," the president added.
Kaljulaid noted that the Estonian Constitution holds all people are equal before the law, which means that everyone must be treated equally.
The original intention of the marriage referendum was, in the event of a "yes" vote, to insert the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman into the Constitution. However, legal experts have since said that the Constitution cannot be easily changed on the back of one referendum, and any alteration requires, for instance, ratification by two successive Riigikogu compositions.
On the issue of protests against the requirement to wear face-masks in public places, as per a government order last week, the president said that again a rift had been exploited in discussions on the effectiveness of masks.
"[The importance of the use of masks] is a voice of reason, but with facts it's very hard to go against 'religion'," she added, implying those opposed to masks – including participants in a demonstration last Friday – were engaged in such.
Editor: Andrew Whyte