Sex, Lies and Lithuania: A Misinformation Campaign by Antichoice Advocates Threatens Common Sense Health Reforms

Article excerpt

LITHUANIA IS IN THE MIDDLE OF a debate over sexual education and the availability of legal abortion. Conservative groups, some funded by the US-based ultraconservative Catholic group Human Life International, have misrepresented every common-sense initiative to reform sexual and reproductive health services, to the possible detriment of Lithuanians' health.

The Family Planning and Sexual Health Association of Lithuania (FPSHA) is a nongovernmental organization promoting the health benefits of access to safe reproductive health and rights for Lithuanian families. It was founded in 1995, just after the Cairo Conference on Population and Development, and has more than 300 members: physicians, parents, teachers, educators, journalists, social workers nurses, midwives and students. In late 2004, FPSHA released survey results showing that three-quarters of Lithuanian women support legal abortion and that almost two-thirds support the availability of medical abortion (which is not available in Lithuania), to terminate a pregnancy. However, the government and the Ministry of Health appear to have been more swayed by the concerted campaign by conservative voices than by the views and needs of Lithuanians, and much-needed reforms have not been introduced.

SEXUALITY EDUCATION

At the moment, sexuality and life skills education are not part of the curriculum in Lithuanian schools. Parents are expected to provide sex education. As not all parents want to provide this information, it is vital that civil society find a way to equip sexually active young people with the knowledge and tools to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Studies have shown that young people who receive sex education that focuses on abstinence and denies information on contraception are less likely to use contraception and protection when they do have sex than young people who have been educated about their options. The FPSHA has been working with parents, experts, parliamentarians and other advocates to introduce a comprehensive, voluntary sex education plan.

However, the broadly supported sex education proposals that initially came before parliament in 2002 have been delayed by the activities of some conservative groups seeking to deny Lithuanian society the rights and freedoms to even discuss these issues. This is a serious setback for Lithuanian youth and for those parents who need support and help educating their children. A recent international project launched with Swedish support in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which set out to train some 20 teachers in each country on methods of teaching HIV prevention in schools, was not granted state funding in Lithuania. After some initial support, conservatives pressured Lithuania's Ministry of Education and Science to withdraw by utilizing tactics and a media campaign unprecedented in Lithuania. Both Estonia and Latvia continue to support the initiative.

The attacks against the Swedish-supported project were extreme, presenting blatant untruths as fact. "Swedish attacks against the strategists of sexuality education of students" was the title of an article in the newspaper Respublika, (March 30, 2004) that went on to say: "The core of Swedish recommendations and methodology is that the school should take a neutral position and respect any choice of the child, including teaching boys group masturbation, how to masturbate and inviting homosexual couples to the sessions." A Lithuanian doctor then adds that the program is "unacceptable."

The biased, unbalanced article focused on a Swedish sexuality education book that was not, in fact, proposed for or used in Lithuania and quotes, out of context, the line "Masturbation, sexual fantasies and dreams are just one way to perceive one's individuality," in an attempt to paint the Swedish-funded project as immoral. It further suggested that the training materials denied the benefits for children of being in two-parent families. …