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Lithuania Goes Fundamentally Moral

In recent months, Seimas, the Lithuanian parliament, has been occupied with highly sensitive, moral dilemmas. An attempt to win over a predominantly Roman Catholic electorate in the
upcoming elections, has resulted in a very traditional "family" concept plan and a prospective abortion ban.

A man with a megaphone and a giant Lithuanian flag is marching through the main streets of Vilnius chanting: "Create a family, protect Lithuania!" "Our homeland is in danger!" "Lithuania without a strong family means Lithuania without a future!" Trailing behind him is a silent, humble woman pushing a baby stroller. In front of Seimas, the pair is met by a group of conservatively dressed middle-aged women.

The women resentfully nod their heads to the other side of the square, where another group is gathered. It is comprised of young women in wedding dresses, mothers with baby strollers, and a few men. One of the "brides" jumps on a bicycle and starts riding around with a sign attached to her back: "I'm joining the civil service!" This was the scene on May 15th while Seimas held a preliminary deliberation of its resolution to establish the State Family Policy Concept.

Protesters with both conservative and liberal family values, peacefully fought out their views on the proposed bill until June 3rd, when the State Family Policy Concept was adopted. Of the 99 parliament members registered for voting, only six voted against the bill, and 24 abstained from voting.  Seimas' resolution legally defines "family"  as a legally married man and woman, and sketches out the framwork of how to establish this family policy through various laws. Single and unmarried parents do not fall under the definition of a "family".

Divorcees, widows and widowers with children are considered to be an "incomplete family", making them unable to receive the advantages of married couples. The State Family Policy Concept applies to all Lithuanians and foreigners living in the country, and changes the interpretation of all laws and regulations that contain the term "family".

The primary law in this new policy, on issues of family support, was approved by the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee in April and its final deliberation in Seimas is currently pending. The law provides an impressive set of benefits and privileges for married couples: greater financial support, tax exemptions, guaranteed social insurance, preference in civil
service positions, earlier retirement age, housing loan concessions and so forth. Yet, since these advantages only apply to married couples, a man who leaves his family and forms a new one, would still be entitled to benefits, but his divorced wife and children would loose all legal privilges.

Of course, a woman could also leave her husband, form a new family, and he would be left out in the cold. However, as Lilija Vasiliauskiene, the head of the Vilnius Women's Cricis Center, points out, there are ten times more women than men in Lithuania who raise their children alone.

Therefore, Vasiliauskiene claims, since a man is the necessary component of a "family", the document is "in fact, pointed against women". Critics also raise concerns that the plan deems single parents, unmarried parents, divorcees,  and surviving spouses as "incomplete", and wonder whether widows and widowers are being punished for the death of their spouse.

Meanwhile, supporters claim that this bill will work wonders in the elimination of divorce, fostering marriage in younger adults, thus improving the demographic situation. After all, for wed mothers
this bill does provide a number of benefits. It is true that many Lithuanians live in broken households. According to Eurostat data from 2006, Lithuania has some of the highest divorce rates in Europe. However, the numbers might be high because many people in Lithuania get married; twice as many than in Latvia. The statistics on violence within families is more disturbing;
over 50 percent of married women claim that their husbands were violent towards them. With these new laws aimed to discourage divorce, the harsh truth is, some women will be forced to stay in abusive relationships.

The new resolution introduces a conservative approach to human rights: "human rights are primarily implemented through a family, without breaking down individuals". The governmental policies present a clear opinion of those implementing the laws; although a family must be "harmonious", which will be checked by a Family Ministry, domestic violence is considered
a latent crime. This means that police records of such abuse are only a fraction of the actual amount of violence. To keep her benefits, a battered woman in a poor economic situation is likely to think twice before revealing her suffering.

"We have to do something, because in a few years not only 30 percent but 60 percent of children will be born out of marriage. Then, we will have to build new prisons since according to statistics, most prisons primarily contain children of single parents and broken families," proclaimed the head of the conservative Homeland Union party, Andrius Kubilius. His colleague, Rimantas Jonas Dagys, insisted that only healthy "entities" that provide healthy "production" – in other words, good children, who cause no problems – should be supported. These statements have pained single parents as well as some married couples.

"I have been crying all week after the adoption [of the resolution]. This is the last straw; I have
made a firm decision to emigrate", claims a single mother in the biggest women Internet forum Supermama, connecting over 60 thousand Lithuanian women. A married woman and mother of two echoes her opinion: "It's not the money that matters, but whether the values of the state are compatible with ours".

A poll in the Delfi news portal revealed that 53 percent of Lithuanians do not support the new State Family Policy Concept, and a poll in Supermama shows that it is rejected by over 70 percent
of women. The resolution and laws, were met with delight by devout Catholics and officials
of the church. "Lithuania is the first country in the world, trying to save the family…but
exceptions should not become the norm," stated Priest Ricardas Doveika of the Vilnius Arch Cathedral. Doveika, who was promoted immediately after the adoption of the resolution, has been very active in drafting the concept of the State Family Policy Concept bill and abortion ban.

His thoughts are supported by Algimantas Ramonas, chairman of the National Association of Families and Parents. "The institute of family has already disappeared in Europe. All of Europe is now looking at us and waiting to see what Lithuania will do," boasted Ramonas.

Eligijus Masiulis, one of the few parliamentarians against the conservative family policy, indicated that Seimas voted according to wishes of the church because of the upcoming elections. "These politicians will also be running for government positions in various provinces, where priests are
an unquestionable authority to the majority, and the majority of voters are deeply religious". Less conservative churchgoers are complaining that now priests preach on abortion and family policy issues in almost every mass, calling for the protection of traditions. Yet others feel they have found themselves in the necessary role as defenders of morality, allegedly absent
in modern Europe.

"If there was a new Crusade, I would be proud to protect my beliefs with a weapon in my hand!" pronounced a religious father of two. It appears that Lithuanians are presently looking for
their "own" identity, and Roman Catholic values are the obvious choice. After all, according
to research done in 2007 by Baltijos tyrimai, as ordered by the Ministry of Justice, over 80 percent of Lithuanians are Roman Catholics, and the majority are intolerant of other religions. Religious sentiments played an important role in the independence movement two decades ago, and now, the citizens of "The Land of Maria," Lithuania's popular nickname, demonstrate a peculiar mix of Catholicism and Paganism, with strong superstitions and prejudices.

Christianity in Lithuania was enforced by crusaders. They destroyed Pagan shrines and flattened oak groves, considered sacred by Pagan Balts, to built Catholic churches. Lithuania, which finally accepted Christianity in the end of the 14th century, was the last Pagan country in Europe. Yet today, Catholic beliefs are very strong throughout Lithuanian society; now it is from within.

In The Name of The Pope
Another item on the agenda for 21st century morality crusaders is the issue of legal abortions. Even though up to 80 percent of Lithuanians do not approve of the abortion ban, the law is in the last stages of adoption. One of the drafters of this controversial bill, Valdemaras Tomasevskis, has proclaimed that the law shall be a gift to the deceased Pope John Paul II, and that those voting for it shall be rewarded by God.

In December of 2007, the parliamentarians approved deliberation of the law banning abortion.
Since, it has been approved by one parliamentary committee after another. Adoption of the bill is expected before elections in autumn. The new abortion law leaves only two situations warrenting a legal and safe abortion: rape and if the woman is in a life threatening situation. Abortion is illegal in any other case, even if there is a clear abnormality of the fetus.

At the moment, it is possible to have an abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy. Aborting a fetus in a later stage of development is allowed in some cases, and with the permission of a
medical commission. Doctors are allowed to refuse to conduct an abortion, but in accordance with their Code of Ethics, they should not influence a woman's decision and should suggest another doctor to the patient if they are unwilling to perform the procedure.

Since 1997, the annual number of legal abortions has significantly dropped from 30 thousand to 10 thousand today. This could be due to the increasing influence of the Catholic Church, or the growing availability of information about contraception. It is interesting that over 60 percent of Lithuanian women of fertile age do not use any contraception (data of RAIT, 2005). Some
women seeking abortions claim they took precautions, but didn't know how to use the contraceptives.

Dr. Virginija Vanagiene from the Lithuanian Contraceptology Association claims that about 90 percent of these women plan to use contraceptives in the future. Moreover, young girls who start having sex at a young age have a period of a few years when they do not use any contraception. Unfortunately, many young girls have had little sex education, and feel ashamed when asking their gynecologist for birth control advice.

The Catholic Church has banned sex education programs in schools, seeing them as "promotion" rather than "prevention". Instead, the church suggests programs designed to prepare children for marriage. Piotr Kalbarczyk from the Polish Family Planning Association remarked: "We have
programs in Polish schools, where teachers are instructed by the priests. The Catholic vision of sexuality is presented as such: every sexual act must end in procreation". Attempts to ensure chastity end up with hypocrisy, like anal sex, and lack of sexual education creates criminal abortions, added Kalbarczyk.

Supporters of the law have no response to the fact that abortion is legal in neighboring countries, and women who are able, could easily access it now that Lithuania is in the Schengen zone. Poland, which is one of the three countries in Europe (the other two are Malta and Ireland)
forbidding abortions, faces problems of abortion tourism and criminal abortions. Polish pro-life activists have participated actively in the recent discussion in Lithuania. If abortions are banned in Lithuania, women from neighboring Poland will also have fewer possibilities to have an

Poor and undereducated women are the primary target of the law, as they form the majority of women seeking an abortion. In accordance with the data presented at the conference "Abortion in Lithuania" in June, 85 percent of women who choose to have an abortion, have only basic or
secondary education, and merely seven percent of them describe their economic situation as "good". Surely this could be explained by the fact that many abortions are performed on young girls, who are not yet university students and have no money of their own. But these women do not escape stigmatization and remorse. The majority of them are religious (65 percent) and feel bad (90 percent) about having an abortion. To feel bad is simply not enough; these women are "baby murderers" in the eyes of the moral segment of society.

State Family Policy Concept(adopted)

1. Family is a community of closely related persons, created on a basis of marriage of a man and a woman and considered as subject by the state.

Law on the Support to the Family(pending)

Article 6 Support to mother, raising children in a family

1. Mother who raises at least two children under 18 years of age in the same family, and who does not have any income related to work relationsduring this period, shall be granted the
status of a person covered by compulsory social security and health insurance.

2. Mother who raised at least two children in a family shall be granted her pension at the age of 55.

3. Mother who raises at least two children under 18 years of age in a family has a priority right to be admitted into the civil service in accordance with the procedure provided in the Law on Civil Service.

4. Mother who raises at least two children under 18 years of age in a family is entitled to additional vacation days.

5. Mother who raises children under 10 years of age in a family shall have a shorter working day in accordance with the Labor Code, and shall be entitled to partially paid vacation for care of a sick child, and will receive other benefits necessary to help the mother combine child care and workrelations.