Official ruling: Timo Soini’s anti-abortion rally appearance “problematic”

Chancellor of Justice says Soini cannot take a public stand against abortion, while he's on official business, even in his spare time.

File picture of Foreign Minister Timo Soini (Blue) / Credit: Timo Soini

Finland’s Chancellor of Justice has ruled that Foreign Minister Timo Soini‘s (Blue) participation in an anti-abortion event in Canada was “problematic”.

In an official report released today, Chancellor of Justice Tuomas Pöysti writes that when the minister travels abroad as a representative of the Finnish state, he should “observe special caution and thoughtful restraint” with his actions.

Pöysti investigated Soini’s actions after receiving a complaint that the Blue Reform minister participated in an anti-abortion rally during an official visit to Canada.

Soini has argued that his opinions about abortion are grounded in his Catholic faith, and that he has not changed them during decades in public life; and furthermore, that he should be allowed to express them at will.

However, the Chancellor of Justice’s report says that a minister representing Finland is usually assumed to have an impartial and neutral attitude.

“Soini has represented his country, where legislation allows abortion, and the country works in its foreign and security policy to promote women’s and girl’s rights, including their sexual and reproductive rights” says the report.

Legal restrictions of personal beliefs

At the core of Timo Soini’s argument is his stance that he should be allowed to state his personal opinion even while he is on an official visit to another country.

However, the Chancellor of Justice’s report says that in the European Court of Human Rights it has been ruled that someone’s ability to express their beliefs can be restricted in certain employment situations. In this case, it would be related to Soini’s job as a government minister.

“This implies restrictions on the foreign minister’s possible actions when he travels abroad as a representative of the Finnish state” says the report.

Harsh criticism of Soini’s actions

The Chancellor of Justice’s report has stinging criticism for Soini’s actions in Canada earlier this year.

“It is problematic that a minister, especially the Foreign Minister, who is competent to express Finland’s foreign policy positions, takes a stand against the right to abortion during this visit, even if it happens in his spare time” he writes.

“This increases the possibility of incorrect interpretation […] about the official position of Finland” says the Chancellor of Justice’s report.

Soini still faces a motion of no confidence in parliament, tabled by opposition parties. There is no date set for that vote, but the Chancellor of Justice’s report will certainly strengthen their position.

Soini’s abortion comments this year

The Canada trip was not the only time Timo Soini has expressed controversial views about abortion in other countries this year.

In May, he was criticised by other government ministers after comparing a referendum result to legalise abortion in Ireland to a “dirty water source“.

And he also caused controversy during the summer by applauding a referendum result in Argentina where voters did not back a law change that would have allowed abortion.