Dissent forces postponement of abortion vote

  • 2002-01-31
  • Jorgen Johansson
RIGA - Against a background of protests, Latvia's Parliament has postponed passing a new law on reproductive health under which abortion would continue to be legal.

Last year the Latvian Catholic pro-life movement presented to the government a petition bearing 7,000 signatures in protest against abortion.

As the issue came up for debate again, around 100 people gathered outside the Parliament building on Jan. 24 singing spiritual songs and waving banners.

But the debate on the third reading of the law was postponed indefinitely after Prime Minister Andris Berzins, also a member of the Spiritual Affairs Council, said the law should take into account the opinion of Christians.

Protesters pledged they would return as soon as the law was back on the Parliament's agenda.

Catholic Church Cardinal Janis Pujats told reporters at the scene the law was "evil."

The law not only provides for free abortions but also "promotes them," he said.

Karlis Cerans, deputy chairman of the Latvian Catholic pro-life movement, added, "Every child that has been conceived has a right to live, and if a child is conceived it is the parents' duty to see the pregnancy through."

Such views are countered by Ilze Melgalve, executive director of Latvia's Association for Family Planning and Sexual Health.

"Pro-lifers who are against abortion have forgotten that people should be able to choose abortion," Melgalve said.

"We don't say that it's a good thing, but we are saying it should be an option. There are circumstances justifying why abortion should be optional, such as incest and other cases of sexual violation."

At the moment abortion is regulated under a Welfare Ministry directive of 1993.

A reproductive health law is also needed to regulate artificial insemination, currently covered only by a ministry directive of 1999.

The Association for Family Planning and Sexual Health is currently working with the government on the design and implementation of a national family planning strategy.

Cerans called for "discussion" of whether in case of complications during pregnancy it should be possible to carry out abortions.

"What should not be allowed is any action directed toward killing an innocent child. But there are cases when unborn children die during operations trying to save the mother's life, and this requires discussion."