Abortions are for the weak

By Agate Rublovska

Recently, the Latvian society was swept over by an ardent debate about suggested changes to the Latvian Law on Sexual and Reproductive Health. The introduction to the law states it is there to, “regulate the legal aspects of sexual behaviour and reproductive health in order to protect the life of the unborn and the health and wellbeing of every individual”. The point here is the ability to find the compromise between the rights of the embryo/foetus and the rights of the woman, among other issues. In the law, as it now stands, abortions are legal up to certain moment in pregnancy (12 weeks), after which the primacy of the woman’s rights is generally given over to the primacy of those of the foetus.

However, changes are now being suggested by six Latvian politicians – Inga Bite, Imants Parādnieks, Guntis Belēvičs, Mārtiņš Šics, Jānis Ruks, and Nellija Kleinberga. These changes would have multiple, far-reaching implications that have elicited serious critique both from the general public and the experts of the relevant fields. The critics are calling these suggestions unsupported by the statistical evidence, offensive, countering human rights, and even potentially harmful.

The most controversial suggestion is that any pregnant woman is to be called “mother”. As stated by the authors of the reform, the motivation for this is that, “a woman in whose body this new life has come to exist will always be the mother of this particular child”. The fellow government deputy, Ilze Viņķele, has criticized this suggestion by calling it absurd from the legal and ethical viewpoint: “The use of such terminology can cause multiple legal complications. The present wording that a woman becomes mother after giving birth is sufficient and clear”. She added that this may cause extra emotional strain to the women who have chosen to abort their pregnancy, not even to mention the ideological implications of this suggestion.

A few other changes have been suggested. One of which is that a woman who opts for an abortion has to make a mandatory appointment to at least one other expert besides the gynaecologist. Suggested experts were lawyers, social workers, or a psychologist. The goal is to have all implications of the woman’s choice explained to her.

The expenses of these consultations would be covered by the state. However, in these visits the pregnant woman would have to be accompanied by her parents. These suggestions have been motivated by research findings indicating that family support and extra advice can help many women choose to maintain the pregnancy.

Multiple experts have expressed their ardent scepticism for this suggestion. Gynaecologist and Latvian ex-Health minister Ingrīda Circene states that, “most problems cannot be solved with just one consultation”. Given the Latvian socioeconomic situation, there may be multiple intertwined reasons for choosing an abortion, such as a sense that the parents will not be able to provide for the child. Therefore, seeing an expert who gives a short-term advice may not be helpful in the long run. She also states that this would add multiple bureaucratic problems, especially to the women who do not live in cities.

The director of the women’s crisis centre “Marta” Iluta Lāce expresses a similar opinion. She suggests that there might be positive aspects of these consultations if only they were voluntary; however, her final remark is that, “If all these law changes are accepted, it would mean institutionalization of emotional violence towards women by the state.”

However, there are also attitudes favouring the legal revisions. The leader of an association “Centre for Pregnancy Crisis”, Judīte Briede-Jureviča, states that these consultations would be useful since her experience shows that no woman can escape intense feelings of regret and pain after having had an abortion. Yet, it seems that the majority of the experts do not favour these suggestions, questioning the reason why the “father” is excluded from these procedures.

Another suggestion is to extend the present “contemplation” period a woman is given to change her mind before the abortion, from 72 hours to 120 hours. Multiple Latvian gynaecologists and social workers, such as gynaecologist Ilze Vīberga and association “Mom’s Club” leader Sandija Salaka, have stated that there may be negative consequences to this – the longer one waits, the more the risks of the actual abortion procedure increase; but, most importantly, it prolongs the emotional suffering of those involved. Additionally, the doctor’s experience and research indicates that at least two thirds of the women who approach their doctor do not change their mind subsequently, and that 75% of women, before choosing abortion, have consulted somebody – most often the family, friends, or the partner, thus rendering these changes pointless.

In an interview for Latvian Radio, Iluta Lāce states: “This puts an incredible pressure on those women who already are in a difficult situation. They are made to feel guilty. This reduces women’s freedom of choice and fails to view woman as a responsible being. Rather, it reduces her to a being incapable of rational decisions, indicating that someone else has to make those decisions for her”.

Inga Bite, one of the six authors of these law changes, has stated that the goal of this reform was never to limit the accessibility of the abortions or to limit women’s choices, but to increase the likelihood that informed, responsible decisions are being made. This is an attempt to ameliorate the Latvian demographic situation, so that Latvia is finally full with happy, smiling families.

Even if the intentions of this reform are well meant, the public backlash indicates that there are serious issues with it. First, statistical data seems to have been ignored: ever since the 1990s, the number of abortions in Latvia has been steadily decreasing, despite the minimal social support from the state and the generally unfavourable socioeconomic situation. Second, critics point out that it would make more sense to first focus on ameliorated sex education and better availability of contraceptives.

However, Imants Parādnieks, a government deputy and the main propagator of these legal changes, in a public interview admitted that he sees as his task to reduce the number of abortions, but he “cannot possibly be expected to address everything”. Thus, no focus on contraception from his part is to be expected. Moreover, the piece accompanying the law changes clearly urges people to forsake “pharmacological contraception in favour of more natural means of family planning”. It is not explained exactly what these “natural means” are, but they seem to suggest replacement of more effective methods with less effective ones (such as rhythm planning), thus, in fact, potentially worsening the problem.

It is possible that this whole situation is more than just a manifestation of incompetence. Multiple public statements, made by the involved politicians reveal the ideological assumptions underlying the reform. For example, the piece accompanying the reform states that this law will attempt to stop the practice in which “one person’s pleasure is put above the responsibility towards the family and society”, a statement having multiple interesting implications of its own. Or, as stated by Imants Parādnieks: “The women who say [that they support abortions] have psychological issues. It is hard to otherwise comment such unreasonable statements”. Additionally, it has been openly suggested by journalist Inga Spriņģe in her televised debate with Imants Parādnieks that there seem to be indications that this reform is an outcome of direct lobbying by Latvian pro-life associations that want to emphasize Christian values in the government.

There is no doubt that this is a complex issue. Politicians have expressed their pro-life opinions by proposing these law changes, and the society has responded critically. The core point of these responses is that these ‘reforms’ are nothing but an attempt to get rid of the symptoms without investigating the underlying causes. This law translates the assumptions about the woman’s role and the beginning of human life into practical consequences for all Latvian women, living in a secular state, and many men and women have been willing to voice their disagreement. How this fight ends remains to be seen.

Agate Rublovska, Class of 2016, Linguistics and Cognitive Science major from Riga, Latvia

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