Päivi Maria Räsänen, née Kuvaja (born December 19, 1959, in Sonkajärvi, Finland), is a Finnish politician. The chairwoman of the Christian Democrats since 2004, she was the Minister of the Interior of Finland between 2011 and 2015.
A physician by education, Räsänen entered politics in the early 1990s, running for parliament in 1991. She has been in the Riihimäki City Council since 1993, and in the Finnish Parliament since 1995. She was elected the chairperson of the Christian Democrats in October 2, 2004. Following the government formation after the 2011 election, which led to the Christian Democrats joining the government, Räsänen was nominated by the party as the Minister of the Interior in the 72nd Finnish Cabinet led by Jyrki Katainen, and she was inaugurated along with the government on June 22, 2011.
Career and political positions
Räsänen has been characterized as a conservative. On October 12, 2010, Räsänen was one of the participants on a live TV debate on Ajankohtainen kakkonen's Homoilta special, with the topic of same-sex marriage and LGBT rights. The program was followed by an unprecedented exodus from the Evangelical Lutheran Church — in a few weeks, nearly 40,000 members left the Church through the website eroakirkosta.fi. Räsänen was on the show representing her party and herself as a Christian individual along with five other opponents of gay marriage, but the resignations were specifically attributed to her by the media in general and then-Minister of Culture and Sports Stefan Wallin. Räsänen thinks homosexual acts are a sin and she herself does not consider her views "specifically extreme".
When interviewed by Ylioppilaslehti on October 29, 2010, Räsänen said that she would favor Christians over Muslims when selecting asylum seekers to Finland due, in her opinion, to Muslims' "difficulties to adjust to the Finnish culture". Her comments were condemned as "incomprehensible and merciless" by then-Minister of Migration and European Affairs Astrid Thors and then-Minister of Culture and Sports Stefan Wallin. Räsänen responded to the criticism, saying her comments were misinterpreted, since she did not consider religion as the main criterion for asylum seekers' admissions, but instead she wanted to highlight the benefits of refugees' integration through religious connections. In practice, as minister in charge of immigration affairs Räsänen has advocated for increasing the number of refugees taken in by Finland, especially from Syria.
In September 2012 Räsänen appointed a religiously conservative applicant, considered less qualified by the media, among six candidates to Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Interior Affairs, which created considerable debate, especially as she had previously condemned political appointments of government officials.
Stance on abortion
Abortion statements of Interior Minister Päivi Räsänen led to another large number of Finns leaving the Lutheran church of Finland via an online service in July 2013. Räsänen contrasted abortion law to animal protection law saying that the latter gives better protection for animals than the former does to humans (fetuses):
"The law on animal protection gives better protection to an animal about to be put down than the law on abortion does to an unborn child. It is forbidden to cause the animal pain when slaughtering it, but no one dares to even discuss the painfulness of abortion. Abortion is defended on the grounds that the fetus is not a human person, even though it is a biological human individual from the moment of conception."
In total 6,500 persons left the church in the first six days following the controversy, while the average number had been 70 persons a day prior to it.
Räsänen is married and has five children. She lives in Riihimäki.
Räsänen is a doctor and holds a Licentiate of Medicine.