Is Lithuania about to Adopt an Abortion Ban?

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Is Lithuania about to Adopt an Abortion Ban?

Anna Wilkowska-Landowska

If the Lithuanian Parliament adopts more restrictive abortion regulations currently under debate, Lithuania would join Malta, Ireland and Poland as a European country in which access to abortion is significantly limited.

the 41st Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination
against Women (CEDAW), the UN agency responsible for monitoring countries’ progress on ensuring women’s human rights, held recently in New York, Committee members raised concerns about abortion laws and in several Eastern European countries,
Lithuania among them. Why? The Lithuanian Parliament
is considering an abortion ban. By adopting more
restrictive regulations on abortion Lithuania would
join a group of three countries of the European Union (Malta, Ireland
and Poland), where access to abortion
is significantly limited.

The Committee considered the recent official reports from Lithuania as well as a shadow letter submitted by the Seimos Planavimo ir Seksualines
Sveikatos Asociacija

(The Family Planning and Sexual Health Association-FPSHA) based in Vilnius,
Lithuania and the Center for Reproductive Rights, based in New York. In their
letter of June 5, 2008
organizations brought to the Committee’s attention the pending restrictive
abortion legislation. And during Lithuania’s review, CEDAW committee members pressed the
government delegation not only on access to contraception but also on
proposed legislation that seeks to defend prenatal
life and would pose restrictions on access to abortion. Japanese committee
member Yoko Hayashi stated that governmental restrictions on abortion
"contradict the full enjoyment of women’s reproductive health rights
that are protected by CEDAW."

of the Lithuanian Parliament are considering a draft law (known as the
Act of the Republic of Lithuania on the protection of the human life
in the prenatal stage) that aims to severely limit access to abortion and would create one of the most restrictive laws on abortion in Europe. The
draft provides for only three situations in which abortion would be lawful
within very strict time-limits: when the pregnancy involves a risk to the life
or health of the pregnant woman, and when there are reasonable grounds
to believe that the pregnancy is the consequence of criminal acts. Access
to abortion in cases of fetal impairment is not guaranteed. In February
2008, a group of more than 110 Members of the European Parliament signed a letter urging the Lithuanian Parliament to
reject this draft law because it would represent a serious backlash
to women’s reproductive health rights in Lithuania, limiting their
right to life, health and dignity. On April 16, 2008, the Human Rights
Committee of the Lithuanian Parliament issued its supportive opinion
on the law. According to one of the members of Lithuanian delegation
to CEDAW session, the discussions are being continued, as the Ministry
of Health responsible for presenting the final conclusions on the draft
did not support the act in its current wording. Delegation members also explained that because the draft is very controversial
and because it is influenced by the Catholic Church authorities, it
is extremely difficult to predict the outcome of debates.

Taking the above into consideration,
in its concluding observations, the CEDAW Committee expressed concern
about this draft law on the protection of human life in the prenatal
phase. Since, according to the law, abortion under circumstances apart
from three situations mentioned in the act may be considered a punishable
offense under Lithuanian law, the Committee is concerned that the adoption
of such a law may lead women to seek illegal abortions, which may bring
negative consequences to their health. The Committee has called on Lithuania
"to consider the impact on women of the draft law on the protection
of human life in the prenatal stage to ensure that the draft law is
in line with the Convention and accordingly will not lead to women seeking
unsafe medical procedures, such as illegal abortion, which may seriously
risk their health and lives and may contribute to a rise in maternal

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Lithuania seems to be considering more restrictive regulations on abortion as a solution to reducing high numbers of abortions performed annually throughout the country. However, as rightly pointed out by many organizations working on reproductive rights, banning abortion will negatively affect only low-income women, while wealthy women will still be able to meet their reproductive health needs by travelling abroad and performing abortions in other countries of the European Union. The example of Poland shows ‘abortion underground’ seems to be a direct result of introducing restrictive laws not allowing for abortions in many justifiable situations. The Center for Reproductive Rights rightly pointed out in the written comments on the proposed legislation that "the Irish and Polish laws, by severely restricting legal abortion access, have not succeeded in achieving their policy goals of reducing the number of abortions women seek and in increasing the number of children born. […] In addition, both the Irish and Polish laws have been analyzed by national as well as international courts. Both countries’ laws have been challenged for violating women’s fundamental human rights before the European Court of Human Rights (see Even Legal Abortion Is Hard to Access in Poland).

The experiences of countries
like Ireland or Poland show that restrictive abortion laws have not
led to reduced numbers of abortions or resulted in population growth.
Hence, as also requested by the CEDAW Committee, instead of changing
the laws, Lithuania should arrange for family planning methods, "such
as a comprehensive range of contraceptives, including emergency contraception,
more widely available and affordable, provide mandatory sexual education
in schools and increase knowledge and awareness about
family planning among women as well as men."
Lithuanian legislators should take this into account before it is
too late.

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