'Christian Values' Before Human Rights: Lithuania Debates Abortion Ban

Once again, the Lithuanian Parliament is slated to consider a ban on abortions in this spring session. Exceptions would not apply even when there are serious health risks to the fetus. The initiators claim they are representing Christian values.

Not the first time

The proposal to ban abortions is once again on the agenda of the Parliament’s spring session. Despite public opposition and popular protests, the draft law finds its way to the Parliament's Committee on Human Rights every year.

The members of Parliament who initiated the Law on the Protection of Life in the Prenatal Phase in 2013 are once again trying to restrict women's rights in relation to their own bodies.

Appealing to Christian values and public morals, the initiators are ignoring NGO concerns about human rights violations. Should the amendments be adopted, the Parliament would become the judge in situations where women should rightfully decide whether to give birth or not.

A ban on abortions would have a negative impact on women's health and life, whereas the ruling party is justifying the decision by referring to Lithuania’s exceptionally low birth rate – which, it seems, needs to be promoted by any means necessary.

As Zbignev Jedinskij, a member of Parliament (MP) from the LLRA Polish minority party and one of the initiators of the draft law, said:

"The Church supports our law, the Church and believers are part of society. Why can we not ask their opinion? But we are of the same mind. There are many movements against this law, which are illegal, but this is a part of society that has the right to air their opinions. I have never been to the Archdiocese, but I am a believer and this law is not against my views."

Therefore, in Lithuania, even in the absence of a state religion, the ruling party, when attempting to pass legislation that violates human rights, often appeals to believers’ feelings.

Two exceptions?

The draft amendment provides that a woman should give birth in all cases, even if there is a high probability that the child will have serious health issues. It is as if women are told to establish an emotional connection with the fetus during pregnancy, even if the baby does not survive.

Truth be told, the legislators did provide for two exceptions to the ban: first, when the pregnancy poses a risk to the woman's health; second, when there are reasonable grounds for believing that the woman had experienced sexual abuse.

However, these exceptions are questionable, since in both cases – whether it is danger to a woman's health or sexual abuse – you would need time and evidence. Despite the risks, such legislation would stoke doctors’ fears and discourage them from terminating pregnancies even when there is good reason to believe that the fetus will be defective or that the woman was a victim of abuse.

In cases of sexual violence and abuse, there would be additional difficulties due to the complicated process to bring these cases to the attention of the law enforcement authorities – the police still prefer not to record such incidents, with pre-trial investigations being rare.

It is also important to note that last year the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) carried out a comprehensive investigation in Northern Ireland, identifying human rights violations related to sexual health that resulted from the national ban on abortions. The report concluded that the ban of abortion violated several articles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, with the Committee recommending wider provisions for abortion in four circumstances: where there is incest, sexual abuse, serious disease for the fetus or a threat to the woman's health. The Lithuanian Parliament's Human Rights Committee also asked CEDAW's to comment on the proposed new law in Lithuania.

Systemic problems untouched

Efforts to ban abortions are unlikely to reduce their rate – women from the upper echelons of society would still be able to get them in other countries, since the law prescribes no criminal liability for that.

This would not only widen the gap between wealthy and not-so-wealthy women, but also give rise to a “black market” for abortions, which would pose a serious risk to women's lives, health and psychological well-being. Underage girls would also face social exclusion since they would be forced to proceed with the unwanted pregnancy.

We need to give more attention to the integration of gender education in schools, which would cover all topics related to reproductive rights, the right to life, safe family planning and contraception. While acknowledging that the best way to reduce the number of abortions is through sexual education, the MPs who have proposed the draft law are still hiding behind "God’s will" and Church sermons, without daring to devote enough attention to progressive solutions to problems.

Abortion is still seen as something stigmatizing, or even murder, which is why the ruling party continues to try to appeal to voters with conservative views. If this amendment is adopted, women would find themselves stuck in a vicious loop, where their ability to control their body would be fully restricted instead of being based on human rights principles and choice.

This article was edited on 30 March 2018 - we previously stated that the draft law was on the agenda of Parliament's Human Rights Committee, whereas it is currently only slated for debate in Parliament during the latter's spring session.