In 1995, pro-life and traditional marriage movements were just emerging from beneath recent Communist rule. On his Moscow trip, Carlson met with Russian government officials who showed him copies of a new journal they had created called The Family in Russia, modeled after the Rockford Institute’s The Family in America. They agreed to work jointly on their journals and translate some of Carlson’s work into Russian.
When Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, the emerging Russian family groups saw more opportunities. Practically speaking, Russia was in a demographic crisis where birthrates were low and death rates were high. (Russia also has the highest abortion rate in the world, according to the latest UN data.) The Russian government—bidding for survival—showed a renewed interest in addressing gay marriage and abortion, with support from the Russian Orthodox Church.
Putin in turn has aggressively promoted the Orthodox Church. Last year the Kremlin financed a grand new Orthodox church on the banks of the Seine River in Paris, France. In a 2014 speech, Putin defended his annexation of Crimea by explaining the territory was of “sacral importance” to Russia, “like the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.” Crimea was where, in the 10th century, Vladimir I was baptized before bringing Christianity to modern-day Russia.
“It was a different ballgame under Putin,” said Janice Shaw Crouse, a former director of Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute who has worked closely with WCF for years. “He wanted Russia to be a great country again.” In a few short years, Crouse said, American and Russian groups developed an effective pro-family movement in the country.
In Moscow in 2011 WCF hosted a large “Demographic Summit” focused on abortion and the family, with a roster of American social-conservative speakers such as former presidential candidate Alan Keyes, Steven Mosher of the Population Research Institute, and Peggy Hartshorn of Heartbeat International. Also among the speakers were members of the Duma (the lower chamber in the Russian parliament), Russian Orthodox leaders, academics, an adviser to then-President Dmitry Medvedev, and even a decorated cosmonaut.
Later that year the Duma passed several restrictions on abortion, including a ban on abortion after 12 weeks of gestation. WCF’s managing director, Larry Jacobs, said WCF never formally “lobbied” but he was “very proud of that conference, and the results.” The next year, a Russian group called “The Sanctity of Motherhood” held its own conference: Jacobs said he was the only American there.
“It’s got a self-momentum now,” said Jacobs.