The Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) says that its goal is not to outlaw abortion.
In a joint statement by the party's Riigikogu group, EKRE said that: "We understand your concern for the health of Estonian women and we also regret that you have fallen victim to malicious misinformation."
"We categorically reject all allegations thrown out into the public," the party's group said, adding that NGO "Elu Marss" (English: "March for life"), an anti-abortion group which is to receive €141,000 from the three coalition parties' "protection money" grant - the largest single beneficiary in fact - was of the same mind.
"The government has stated in the coalition agreement that we will expand counseling programs for conscious family planning, the birth of healthy children, the protection of the health of mothers and the reduction of the number of abortions," the statement continued.
"EKRE's decision to support the March of Life NGO is based on a desire to intensify explanatory work in the field of both abortion and family planning."
EKRE were responding to a joint declaration from the Estonian Nurses' Association, Midwives' Association and Gynecologists' Society which condemned the state support of the NGO and the politicizing of health decisions, as well as a perceived lack of trust of specialists in the abortion field.
'Protection money' kick-starts state budget, administered by ministries
"Protection money" (Estonian: "Katuseraha", literally "roof money) is held annually just ahead of the full state budget vote, and sees funds distributed by political parties to projects of the choice, often of a regional, social, sporting or religious nature. This year, the three coalition parties, Center, EKRE and Isamaa, issued their €6.4 million in protection money jointly. The opposition Reform Party declines to take part in the scheme, saying it represents a type of corruption.
The other opposition, the Social Democratic Party (SDE) had €300,000 in protection funds to give out this year.
The funds are divided up according to which government ministry is most appropriate; the ministry signs an agreement with the beneficiary and checks that the funds will be used for their intended purpose.
The EKRE Riigikogu group added in their statement that they were willing and able to consult with the medical profession on the matter.
Leaving gynaecologist: Banning abortion will not have effect on rate
Ivo Saarma, president of the Estonian Gynaecologists' Society (ENS), told daily Postimees that banning abortion would not have an effect on birth rates or even abortions taking place.
Saarma said: "Banning abortion is not the way to reduce it, something which can only be done via education. Much has been done in Estonia to prevent abortion where necessary, and this is also reflected in the number of abortions, which have decreased significantly over the years."
Saarma added that support for families in difficulties was more important than a blanket ban, adding that unwanted pregnancies were never just a woman's choice, but one involving both parties in the pregnancy.
Legal abortion would protect women from the ill-effects of that procedure being illegal, he added.
Saarma also said that "Elu Marss" represented a fringe, radical group, whose support would not have any impact on the abortion rate, if international experience is anything to go by.
On the other hand, Estonia was close to the Scandinavian countries in both level of sexual health education and abortion figures, making it a strange time for it to become a hot topic, he said.
"It is confusing why this issue should be raised if it is not a problem in Estonia and we are on the right track."
Nurses' association leader: Abortion only ultimate step in well-developed health-care process
Marleen Mägi, member of the management board of the Estonian Nurses' Association (Eesti Õdede Liit), said that any actual talk of banning abortion in Estonia, which has been legal since fairly early on in the Soviet era, was cause for concern.
She said: "Abortion is one medical procedure in the whole of sexual and reproductive healthcare, the prohibition of which would be a violation of human rights. As healthcare professionals, we stand up for people's health and are concerned about arbitrary attempts to ban one procedure."
"There are many more acute problems in our country that need support. For example, the healthcare system, where there is a significant shortage of staff, needs significant support," Mägi added.
Advances in contraception, reproductive health and education had made such progress in recent decades that abortion was only the final, and most thoroughly thought-through option, she noted.
AK: Not clear why "Elu Marss" not under social affairs ministry's aegis
ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Monday evening that while "Elu Marss'" area of activity concerns social issues and public health, the grant it is receiving will be administered by Minister of Public Administration Anneli Ott (Center), effectively designating it a regional investment.
This in itself was confusing, AK said, with the finance ministry stating that since the budget had not passed yet (while the funds are allocated ahead of the state budget, they are drawn from the latter once it passes – ed.) it was not possible to discuss the matter.
The grant had been shrouded in mystery, opposition Reform MP and vice-chair of the Riigikogu's finance committee Maris Lauri told AK, adding that given its chosen focus topic it would be better handled by the Ministry of Social Affairs, rather than the public administration ministry.
Lauri said that: "Apparently for the Minister of Social Affairs [Tanel Kiik (Center)], this activity is not in line with the ministry's purview, i.e. health care and supporting the right choices."
Center's Riigikogu group leader Kersti Sarapuu told AK that she had looked into the project and had been told that the abortion issue had been over-blown.
Sarapuu said: "In reality, they are aiming to help organize full-fledged family life, to give advice, to talk about employment and the regional dimension.
Aivar Kokk (Isamaa), chair of the finance committee, said he could not explain how the support could influence regional development.
Riigikogu finance committee chief: 'Protection money' procedure to be overhauled
Kokk said: "We hope that at the point at which agreements are concluded with the ministry, we will also be able to see what actual activities are carried out and how they could support regional investments throughout Estonia."
Kokk said that while the distribution of "protection money" was sufficiently transparent, MPs do not always follow the rules to the letter, meaning the current procedure must be altered next year.
This would be: "In order not to create situations where money is allocated to relatively new NGOs, i.e. we need to see how long they have been operating, and in what field their activities are."
"Elu Marss" was formed in August, and has carried out one anti-abortion march in central Tallinn, which took place later that month.
Another, brand-new NGO aimed at funding a statue or other memorial to a controversial member of the Baltic German aristocracy who reportedly was behind war crimes which slaughtered hundreds, primarily in Mongolia, during the Russian Civil War of 1917-1923, later declined its €45,000 grant following a media outcry. The NGO had been formed only days before its grant was announced.
AK reached out to "Elu Marss", but the latter did not respond, the show says, However, board member Lydia Hõbesalu had told the show's weekend edition that: "Our work does not consist of organizing life marches once a year, but a lot of work besides, including the involvement of experts in abortion prevention and pregnancy crisis counseling."
EKRE MPs also declined to talk to AK, the show said.
Editor: Andrew Whyte