While the world’s attention is currently fixed on Ireland, the pro-life battle is being fought across the globe. Here’s a chance to find out about the pro-life movement in Latvia!
Latvia is a country which has a rapidly declining population: the number of people living in Latvia dropped from 2.67 million in 1990 to 1.95 million in 2017. This is mirrored by the falling birthrates, with 34,633 live births in 1991 versus only 21,968 in 2016. It is also widely acknowledged that the fact that many young people are leaving Latvia to find work elsewhere is contributing to the falling population figures. Currently, abortion is legally permitted in Latvia until the 12th week of pregnancy, with 4366 legal abortions carried out in 2016. This is a significant drop from the 38 837 abortions carried out in 1991, demonstrating the culture change since the collapse of the Soviet Union, along with the fact that the falling population has sparked both governmental and non-governmental initiatives to encourage a culture of life amongst the population. This may have contributed to the modest rise in birth rates from 18,825 in 2011 to 21,968 in 2016. While the current abortion figures evidently show an improvement on earlier figures, and suggest that initiatives to promote culture of life are having a positive effect, it is still 4366 too many. Pro-life activists compare the loss of so many unborn babies’ lives to the massacre of one Latvian town.
Discussions on potential compulsory psychological consultations for women wishing to have an abortion and on the donation of eggs for IVF have brought the issues to the attention of the public eye, and an international conference entitled ‘The Right to Life and Freedom of Conscience’ was held in the capital Riga in October 2016, with pro-life activists from 13 different countries involved. As well as members of parliament and local government officials, international groups such as ‘40 Days for Life’ and ‘Human Life International’ were present along with Latvian groups like ‘Kustība Par Dzīvību’ (‘Movement For Life’), which shows that the pro-life movement in Latvia has allies and supporters from around the world. A topical issue which came up at the conference was the lack of protection for medical students and professionals when it comes to the right to conscientious objection. A potential challenge for the future is the question of Assisted Dying. Euthanasia is currently illegal in Latvia, though there are groups which wish to diffuse the idea amongst the public and in the political sphere. Given that radical feminism has not had the same impact as in Western Europe, and in light of recent victories for the pro-life cause in areas formerly under the Soviet Union, there is particular hope that a ‘pro-life spring’ is soon to come!
Dr. Joseph Meaney speaking at HLI’s International Congress in Latvia, October 2016. Image via Human Life International
Attempts to promote a pro-life ethic in Latvia are linked closely to those encouraging the fostering of family ties, Alongside the discouraging of abortion comes the encouragement of the use of natural family planning, with the Family Ecology Institute being the main promoter of this in Latvia. This country’s pro-life movement is currently strongly associated with Christianity, with a variety of denominations coming together to promote the pro-life cause.
Like many in the pro-life movement around the world, the ultimate aim of the pro-life movement in Latvia is to make Latvia a nation in which abortion is unthinkable.
Fr. Aivairs Licis is the chaplain to the pro-life movement in Latvia and secretary to the Archbishop.