Right to Private and Family Life

I. Reproductive Rights and Sexual Education

Although reproductive rights are an integral part of the human rights package, they are still not protected by law in Lithuania. Even though various draft laws have been proposed since 2002, no political agreement has yet been reached on their adoption due to a lack of political will and fierce opposition of the Roman Catholic Church.  

The 2013-2014 period was controversial for reproductive rights in Lithuania. On the one hand, attempts to ban abortion by law, with exceptions provided in only very narrow circumstances, struck a significant chord with the Lithuanian public (and, in most cases, were met with resistance); on the other hand, the debate over the regulation of assisted reproduction resurfaced once more with the deliberation of two new laws on assisted reproduction and related services. None of the above legal initiatives were adopted in said period. 

The Reference Material on Preparing for Family Life and Developing Sexuality, approved by the Ministry of Education and Science in 2012, is full of information that is misleading, inaccurate or grounded in religious dogma. For example, it is claimed that any form of contraception is harmful to a person's physical and mental health; that pre-marital sexual relations lead to emotional trauma; that chastity is the foundation of sexuality; that women are often persuaded to do an abortion by their husbands or boyfriends; that women are much less traumatized if they give birth and then give the baby up for adoption; it likens pre-marital sexual relations to criminal activity (i.e. robbery); and many others.

The draft Law on the Protection of Life in the Pre-Natal Phase, submitted by the Electoral Action of Poles (EAP) in 2013, was responsible for initiating the debate over the ban of abortions in Lithuania.[1] Even though a public opinion survey in 2010 showed that the vast majority (84%) of Lithuanian residents supported women's right to choose in relation to their own pregnancy, the EAP initiative proposed to take that right away from them.[2] 

The draft law aims to establish that "human life begins at conception" and that all related issues must be resolved by prioritizing the "rights of the child in the pre-natal phase".[3] The project would essentially replace the current regime governing abortions[4] and de facto establish a general prohibition on abortion, with two exceptions: when "the pregnancy threatens the life or health of the pregnant woman" and "when there are reasonable suspicions that the pregnancy arose as a result of criminal activity."[5] In all other cases, abortion, including when it is done at the woman's behest, would be prosecuted.[6] For example, both the physicians and the woman herself could face arrest or imprisonment for up to two years for making "the child in the pre-natal phase" ill or causing him serious harm.[7] 

On 14 October 2013 the Government concluded that the draft Law on the Protection of Life in the Pre-Natal Phase prohibiting abortion and all related legislation criminalizing abortion should not be adopted.[8]  However, the consideration of the Law continued: the Parliament's Committee on Health Affairs decided to, in essence, approve the bill.[9] Furthermore, it was proposed to amend Article 8 of the Law on Fundamentals of Protection of the Right of the Child, establishing the child's right to health from the moment of conception.[10] 

In its concluding observations to Lithuania, dated 18 July 2014, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) stressed that it was seriously concerned about the 2013 bill, which sought to ban safe and legal abortions as well as access to contraceptives.[11] The CEDAW Committee has often said that a ban on abortions infringes upon the right of women to health and to life, as well as Article 12 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.[12] The Committee recommended that Lithuania refrain from adopting laws or amendments that would restrict women's right to safe and legal abortion, and instead adopt the pending laws on reproductive health and assisted reproduction.[13] 

Despite the critical conclusions of the Government, the Parliament's Legal Department as well as its European Law Department,[14] there was no final decision on the draft Law on the Protection of Life in the Pre-Natal Phase in 2014, and as such it is likely that Parliament will continue to consider it in 2015. 

As a balance to bills restricting women's rights, two parallel processes for drafting the Law on Reproductive Health were initiated, one of them taking place in Parliament, the other – in the Ministry of Social Security and Labour (MSSL).[15] The MSSL bill seeks to establish progressive regulation, providing for women's right to medical abortion as well as setting out the responsibility of the Ministry of Health to organize the sexual education of the public and to include sexual education in general education.[16] Meanwhile, the draft Law on Reproductive Health prepared by the Ministry of Health focuses on developing a youth-friendly health care service model, but it also deserves criticism for trying to establish a mandatory 72-hour waiting period before surgical abortion.   

It is likely that, in the 2015 parliamentary debates over the draft Law on Reproductive Health, proponents of the protection of life at the pre-natal stage will most harshly oppose the availability of medical abortion, as well the issue of sexual education. 

The adoption process of the draft Law on Assisted Reproduction[17] was halted in 2011, but in 2014, the Parliamentary Health Committee proposed returning the bill for consideration in the main committee.[18] 

The draft Law on Assisted Reproduction[19] that was considered in 2013-2014 deserves criticism for allowing assisted reproduction in only very limited circumstances: the bill only provides access to assisted reproduction to married women and women in registered partnerships, and only using the husband's or partner's reproductive cells. Since it is currently not possible to form registered partnerships in Lithuania, the proposed system would make it impossible for unmarried women to access assisted reproduction. 

The bill also places great importance on the protection of embryos, that is, it states that embryo reduction (destruction of some of the embryos in the uterine cavity in the event of multiple pregnancy)[20] may only be mandated by a decision taken by physicians, when it poses a threat to the life of the pregnant woman. The Law prohibits surrogacy[21] and the importing of reproductive cells in Lithuania – for example, it would be impossible to send reproductive cells from sperm banks abroad. 

Even though one in five families in Lithuania have to deal with infertility (potentially rising to one in three families in the future), efforts to adopt the Law on Assisted Reproduction are hampered by the negative attitudes of the Catholic Church.[22] On 18 July 2014, the CEDAW Committee expressed regret that assisted reproduction is not subsidized in Lithuania despite the high incidence of infertility, recommending the adoption of the Law on Assisted Reproduction.[23]  

There is still no proper sexual education in Lithuania, the country lacks youth-friendly reproductive health services as well as information on said services. The Reference Material on Preparing for Family Life and Developing Sexuality, approved by the Ministry of Education and Science in 2012, is full of information that is misleading, inaccurate or grounded in religious dogma. For example, it is claimed that any form of contraception is harmful to a person's physical and mental health; that pre-marital sexual relations lead to emotional trauma; that chastity is the foundation of sexuality; that women are often persuaded to do an abortion by their husbands or boyfriends; that women are much less traumatized if they give birth and then give the baby up for adoption; it likens pre-marital sexual relations to criminal activity (i.e. robbery); and many others.[24] This material is integrated in ethics and religion classes in Lithuanian schools. 

At the end of 2014, a new working group was formed at the order of the Ministry of Education and Science and tasked with preparing the draft Programme for the Preparation for Family Life and Development of Sexuality. However, the formation of said working group appears to be biased: religious organizations (the Lithuanian Bishops' Conference, the Consistorium of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania) and organizations promoting a definition of the family that is at odds with human rights principles (the National Family and Parents Association, the Lithuanian Parents Forum) were invited to take part, but not organizations proposing science-based development for youth (the Family Planning and Sexual Health Association), human rights or women's organizations.[25]  The above composition of the group is unable to ensure that the preparation of the programme will take into account the plurality of opinion, reflect changing public attitudes and integrate the paradigm of human rights.    

Findings and Recommendations 

  • The efforts to adopt the Law on Reproductive Health and the Law on Assisted Reproduction are commendable, but the fact that progress on the bills is constantly getting stuck in place, with Parliament refusing to consider them, shows a lack of political will. Being important human rights, reproductive rights should be a priority issue.
  • It is commendable that the Government, the European Law Department under the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Department of the Parliament were critical of the Law on the Protection of Life in the Pre-Natal Phase, seeing it as restricting women's right to private life. This and other similar bills should not be considered further.
  • It is necessary to include youth-friendly reproductive health services in the developing legal framework, ensuring that young people receive impartial and objective education on the issues of sexuality and reproductive health. The existing Reference Material on Preparing for Family Life and Developing Sexuality does not comply with the principles set out in national and international human rights legislation, and contributes to further structural discrimination of women.

[1] Draft Law on the Protection of Life in the Pre-Natal Phase, 10 March 2013,  No. XIIP-337, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=444122&p_tr2=2

[2] Inga Saukienė, "84 Percent of Lithuanians Would Justify Abortion", delfi.lt, 9 August 2010, http://www.delfi.lt/news/daily/health/84-proc-lietuviu-pateisintu-aborta.d?id=35265819

[3] Draft Law on the Protection of Life in the Pre-Natal Phase, 10 March 2013,  No. XIIP-337, Articles 1-2, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=444122&p_tr2=2

[4] Order No. 50 of the Ministry of Health "On the Procedure for Surgical Abortion", dated 28 January 1994, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=14276&p_query=&p_tr2=

[5] [5] Draft Law on the Protection of Life in the Pre-Natal Phase, 10 March 2013,  No. XIIP-337, Article 6, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=444122&p_tr2=2

[6] Law Amending and Supplementing Articles 135 and 142 of and Including Article 131(1) in the Criminal Code, 10 March 2013, No. XIIP-338, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=444123

[7] Law Amending and Supplementing Articles 135 and 142 of and Including Article 131(1) in the Criminal Code, 10 March 2013, No. XIIP-338, Article 135(3), http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=444123

[8] Government resolution No. 920 titled "Conclusion on the Draft Law on the Protection of Life in the Pre-Natal Stage", 14 October 2013, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=457720

[9] The conclusion of the Committee of Health Affairs on the Draft Law on the Protection of Life in the Pre-Natal Stage, 11 December 2013, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=462307

[10] Law Amending Article 8 of the Law on Fundamentals of Protection of the Right of the Child, 27 June 2013, No. XIIP-606(2), http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=452254

[11] UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Concluding Observations on the Fifth Periodic Report of Lithuania, 18 July 2014, Paragraph 36, file:///C:/Users/jurate/Downloads/cedaw%20concluding%20observations%20lt%20(4).pdf

[12] UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Concluding Observations on Columbia, 1999, A/54/38/Rev.1, paragraph 393, http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/reports/21report.pdf; Concluding Observations on Mexico, 1998, A/53/38/Rev.1, paragraph 426, http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/reports/18report.pdf; UN Committee on the Elimination of Descrimination against Women decision in the case of L.C. v Peru, delivered on 17 Octoer 2011, application No. 22/2009, http://goo.gl/F6yCds

[13] UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Concluding Observations on the Fifth Periodic Report of Lithuania, 18 July 2014, Paragraph 37, file:///C:/Users/jurate/Downloads/cedaw%20concluding%20observations%20lt%20(4).pdf

[14] Conclusion No. XIIP-337 of the Legal Department "On the Draft Law on the Protection of Life in the Pre-Natal Stage of the Republic of Lithuania", dated 25 March 2013, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=445008&p_tr2=2; Conclusion of the European Law Department on draft laws No. XIIP-337 to XIIP-339, dated 27 March 2013, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=445148&p_tr2=2

[15] Draft Law on Reproductive Health, 13 March 2014, No. XIIP- 1591, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=467170&p_tr2=2; Ministry of Health, "Efforts to Improve Cooperation in the Field of Reproductive Health Will Focus on Youth", 23 May 2014, http://www.sam.lt/go.php/lit/Stiprinant-bendradarbiavima-reprodukcines-sveikatos-srityje--demesys-jaunimui

[16] Lauryna Vireliūnaitė, "Rimantė Šalaševičiūtė: 72 Hour Reflection Period Before Abortion Will Be Made Law", 15min.lt, 29 September 2014, http://www.15min.lt/naujiena/aktualu/lietuva/rimante-salaseviciute-72-valandu-apmastymu-terminas-pries-aborta-bus-56-456401?cf=df

[17] Law on Assisted Reproduction, 7 May 2011, No. XIP-2502(2), http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=399026

[18] Minutes (No. 111-P-40) of the Committee on Health Affairs meeting on the draft Law on Assisted Reproduction, 20 November 2014, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=488344&p_tr2=2

[19] Law on Assisted Reproduction, 7 May 2011, No. XIP-2502(2), http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=399026

[20] Law on Assisted Reproduction, 7 May 2011, No. XIP-2502(2), Article 2(3), http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=399026

[21] Surrogacy is a form of civil agreement whereby one woman undertakes to get pregnant, carry the child and, after birth, hand him over to another person or persons, at the same time reliquishing her maternity rights with respect to the baby; Law on Assisted Reproduction, 7 May 2011, No. XIP-2502(2), Article 11, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=399026

[22] Nemira Pumprickaitė, "Dr. G. Bogdanskienė: the Law on Reproductive Health is Being Impeded by Politicians and the Church", lrt.lt, 24 November 2014, http://www.lrt.lt/naujienos/lietuvoje/2/79999/gyd._g._bogdanskiene_pagalbinio_apvaisinimo_istatyma_priimti_trukdo_politikai_ir_baznycia

[23] UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Concluding Observations on the Fifth Periodic Report of Lithuania, 18 July 2014, Paragraph 36, file:///C:/Users/jurate/Downloads/cedaw%20concluding%20observations%20lt%20(4).pdf

[24] "Preparation for Family Life: Developing Social Competences in Ethics and Religion Classrooms", Reference Material on Preparing for Family Life and Developing Sexuality, 2012, http://www.upc.smm.lt/ugdymas/vidurinis/rekomendacijos/failai/seima/RENGIMAS_%C5%A0EIMAI__SOCIALIN%C4%96S_KOMPETENCIJOS_UGDYMAS_TIKYBOS_IR_ETIKOS_PAMOKOSE.pdf

[25] Indrė Leonavičiūtė, "The Ministry of Education Guards Plans Regarding Sexual Upbringing as Though They Were a State Secret", 12 January 2015, http://www.universitetozurnalistas.kf.vu.lt/2015/01/lytiskumo-ugdymo-planus-svietimo-ministerija-saugo-kaip-valstybes-paslapti/