Should abortion still be illegal in Poland?

10,000 Polish women get abortions in Britain

I noticed this headline in the Telegraph and read the story of how thousands of Polish women have to sneak around getting an NHS number for the sole reason (in many cases) of being able to exercise their right to have control over their own body and reproductive capacity. With it being illegal here in Poland, they are forced to travel to other countries thereby adding bureaucratic hassle and a strange environment/language to what must already be a very nasty and stressful situation. In most cases, I’m guessing, a situation they are forced to dealing with without any real support.

If the number in the UK was 10,000, what is the number for Polish abortions in other countries – Germany, Holland, etc? What might the total number of Polish abortions actually be each year when you add them all up and include what must be a sizeable number of illegal abortions performed within Poland?

Are the government and church right to force these women out of the country, or to break the law within Poland? Is the government right to hold fast to the Catholic doctrine on this issue, or is it time to signal a separation between the two as must surely happen some day?

Is it not a totally hypocritical stance to “pretend” that abortion does not happen in Poland when the statistics show how many Polish women are getting abortions elsewhere? These Polish women ARE Poland, are they not? Should the country not be looking after it’s distressed citizens itself, rather than turning a blind eye?

If abortion is made legal – is that just the start of a slippery slope leading to what might be seen as a total disregard for the creation of new life as, it could be argued, is now the situation in the UK?

I was going to ask – “Do women in fact have ‘the right’ to exercise such control over their own bodies when it comes to the question of terminating pregnancies?” but decided not to thinking the answer might simply depend on one’s religious tendencies. But then I wondered if perhaps there might be other points of view?

We have a number of Poles, especially women who comment here. I wondered what the general opinion is on this issue.

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33 thoughts on “Should abortion still be illegal in Poland?

  1. “….. of being able to exercise their right to have control over their own body and reproductive capacity. With it being illegal here in Poland…..’

    It is not illegal in Poland for women to have control of their own body and reproductive capacity. It is illegal to terminate a pregnancy if that pregnancy came about when a woman was excercising her right to control her own body and reproductive capacity. If the pregnacy came about without the woman’s consent to intercourse or if the woman’s life is in danger then doctor’s are obliged, if asked, to take the mother’s life and psychological well being into account and to respect and facilitate the woman’s choice – whether that be to risk her own life or terminate the pregnancy.

    True, there have been cases where doctors have refused to afford a woman her legal rights and these are perhaps the reason why women are travelling to the UK. Of corse the Uk approach to abortion is best described ad the Pontius Pilot approach. It has to be remembered that when David Steel first pushed for the abortion bill in the UK it was never meant to act as a green light for ‘abortion on request’. People who camapaigned aganst the law saw it as the thin end of the wedge and they have been proven right.
    It seems the west has got passed the dillema as to whether to live ethically or aesthetically.

  2. forbidding abortions is one of the stupid things i can’t understand about poland.

    but then – kaczynski, the catholic church … seems consequent for the country.

    i’d legalize it like in any other liberal country.

  3. “….. of being able to exercise their right to have control over their own body and reproductive capacity. With it being illegal here in Poland…..’

    Ad, I was writing quickly as usual and it’s a hard thing to express in words anyway! Hopefully you’ll forgive me and get my jist? :) In simpler language I should have written “exercise their right to have an abortion” but that didn’t seem right either…

    The point being that, as you yourself know only too well from recent experience, it is the woman’s body (and mind) that take the brunt of any pregnancy. Not the priest’s, government’s, husband’s, boyfriend’s……

  4. Any sane law on abortion has to take several things into account:

    1. a substantial number of women feel no inherent need to give birth once they find out they’re pregnant and if termination is even a remote possibility will do what it takes to terminate the pregnancy. This is not an insignificant number of outliers but a substantial number of women. The number of women who would always want to give birth in the case of unplanned pregnancy is the minority.

    2. there is a substantial number of people (both men and women, maybe the majority) who just don’t plan their sex lives very intelligently which raises the risk of disease and unplanned pregnancy.

    3. abortion is an invasive surgical procedure and not to be taken lightly, it stops a life whether or not you think that life as the moral equivalent of an infant or adult person.

    4. the easier the access is to abortion the more abortions there’ll be.

    5. some percentage of women who have abortions (probably a minority, but not a tiny minority) come to regret it, ofen very deeply.

    My biases are basically pro-choice (and I recognize some people will make poorly thought out and unwise choices) and I think abortion should be available for those women who desire it up through about 5 months, after that there really needs to be some oversight. At the same time, I think it’s important to not pretty up the procedure or drown it in euphemism

  5. I did hear that Daily Telegraph has been sued by some group od Polish people for writing lies – apparently a number 10.000 is a fantasy of the author of the text.

    A woman should be in control of her own body. I do not approve abortion as a solution to a ‘common problem’, no way – yet there are girls and women who should be given a choice.
    And such argument as that a woman could bear a baby and then give it to adoption is a complete and utter nonsense in many cases (ilness; lack of financial help to keep woman and fetus healthy; etc)

    “4. the easier the access is to abortion the more abortions there’ll be.”

    I disagree. It is not a problem of accessibility – it’s a lack of any form of sexual education. That would definitely help with decreasing a number of both legal and illegal abortions.

    “5. some percentage of women who have abortions (probably a minority, but not a tiny minority) come to regret it, ofen very deeply.”

    And some mothers don’t regret drowning their newborn children and putting their bodies in the barrel. Or smashing their heads into the wall.
    I think it’s really a problem of exxageration – somehow some people fight for unborn children as if they were more important than those who were born – and the evil or unfittness for parenthood rarely stops there.

  6. The question is not whether the abortion should be legal, rather than why we need it legalised? Family planning and education (e.g. use of anticonception) is a lot cheaper, but the problem is it needs much time. In Poland we are being educated to sex life by people who can’t have families, yet very often have some side-sex partners (catholic priests). I do not mention parents, as they rather not like to talk about it, but they will scream the hell out of you, when it comes you do have a sex partner.

    So in my opinion the following should be done to deal with unwanted pregnancies:
    1. Legalize sex and marriage for catholic priests (for Gods sake its natural!)
    2. Start sex education programmes in schools (children educate themselves anyway)
    3. Convince people, that having 5 children and earning 800zl do not mix well
    4. Watch more ‘Meaning of Life’ by Monty’s, especially the piece about catholic and protestant families.

  7. I’m 100% with Adthelad on this one. Have sex, get pregnant, don’t like the idea, get rid of a human life. Not on, I’m afraid. Terminating ill foetuses, OK. Been raped, abort (society doesn’t need more rapist genes). But treating human life as a side effect of ‘having fun’ – that ain’t right.

    I guess it boils down to whether you think human beings have an immortal soul or not. If not – hey! we’re just meat. Thinking, feeling meat.

    If we do, we have an obligation to our Maker.

  8. Would any party that proposed changing the law get elected? I strongly doubt it, it seems to be against the public mood. In that sense it should be illegal because it’s the will of the majority of the electorate. Should the majority of the electorate believe this? That’s a different argument, and one you’re unlikely to win with logic.

  9. I’m Polish and pro-choice. There was a time when I was sure I’d abort if I got pregnant. Now I know I wouldn’t do that, but I still think I should have the right to make this decision. Situation in Poland in the matter of abortion is definitely not healthy, with catholic church being so powerful :/ It makes me angry to hear that women who did it are murderers, and hearing it mostly from men, what’s more from men who are not supposed to ever have children anyway.

    The other thing is… I can understand the need of having one abortion, yes. Condom failed, pills didn’t work properly, it happens. But having four, five or more?! Are British women so bad at using contraceptives, or so thoughtless? And all that with much easier access to it? I just don’t get it.

  10. Marta: I have to agree, I don’t feel comfortable with the idea that men really have anything meaningful to say on this subject – though I understand why they believe they do. Comparing abortion to murder is trite, simplistic, and completely misses the point.

    Michael: Even though I promised myself not to get mixed up in this minefield I have to say it; how can you possibly believe in immortal souls and countenance the abortion of a fetus that is the result of rape at the same time? Exactly which fetuses have souls and which ones don’t, I’m confused?

  11. Island, to your 11:01 comment. I think this comes down to whether we are both living in a ‘Catholic country’ or a ‘country of Catholics’. I must confess that before I moved here I assumed the latter but it is in fact the former.

    I’m always deeply suspicious of any country where religion plays a leading role in politics, or vice versa. The two things should never be mixed, primarily because, for the most part, religion is an ancient way of controlling the people and politics is a new one. If we’re going to let religion lay the rules down we might as well go back to stoning people.

    I think women, like Marta said, should have the choice. I think the latest termination date needs careful thought. I do, however, find the thought of multiple terminations rather disturbing and I’d like to think there would be some mechanism for getting to the root of those issues instead of just one abortion after another. I would also not be comfortable if abortion became just as easy a decision as botoxing the lips, for those women who might be that way inclined.

    For the 2:06 comment – I think Michael is just playing God – or he has scientific evidence that the act of rape (of any of its multitude forms) produces rapist children?

  12. I’m not a believer but religion is far more than “an ancient way of controlling the people”.
    Of course it can be abused and I’m entirely in favor of separating religion and politics (an inherently dangerous and usually toxic combination) but to dismiss the human need for symbolic communication and finding a spiritual center is not a good idea.

    Of course there’s no guarantee that children fathered by rape will grow up to be rapists themselves but the sociobiological argument is that making women give birth if they become pregnant by rape is rewarding the rapist in evolutionary terms. It’s not about preventing future rapists but about depriving the rapist of a genetic legacy. I have no problem with that.

    Generally flat dogmatic statements (abortion is murder; unlimited abortion on demand is every woman’s right) tend to stop any debate about abortion in its tracks and prevent any kind of sane legislation.

  13. I have lived my whole life in Canada. While I don’t support abortion, I am most certainly “pro-choice”. A woman should be given the choice and control over her own body. No political body, or church dogma should have power over her ultimate decision and her body.

    I last visited Poland in 1983 (interesting times) and hope to return in the coming year. I don’t know what disturbs me more, the “free access to abortions” during the Soviet controlled years or the meddling of the church into the private lives of women and their right to safe and accessible procedures, currently. I remember discussing abortions in 1983 with a female cousin: how many girl firends had one, two or many abortions by the time they reached their early 20’s. How effective birth control was not available, but abortions were performed routinely. It all seemed like a horrible nightmare spawned by the Soviets to undermine the Church in Poland at the time, by making its most vulnerable and desperate citizens participate in terrible acts because no other alternatives were available (or intentionally withheld). How many young women’s fertility was completely compromised, I don’t know. I remember feeling horrified. Now, listening to the “religious right” is equally disturbing, not only w Polsce. There are serious rumblings in the U.S. (coming out of the so called “Bible Belt”) that important abortion legislation may be challenged again in the US courts. We live in scary times. The global threat of “religious fundamentalism” which obviously includes Christian fundamentalism, rocks our societies daily.

  14. Pingback: ProWomanProLife » Viva Polska

  15. Guys, you know what? The blog ProWomanProLife that linked here has a better phrased argument than 90% of what I read in this thread.

    Frankly, I’m sick of the “No political body, or church dogma should have power over [a woman’s] ultimate decision and her body.” It reads like some 19th century Black Legend about the Catholic Church and its dumb devotees. Do you think that when a woman wants to have an abortion and goes to a gynaecologist there’s a priest waiting for her there? No, there’s a doctor of medicine telling her it’s against the Polish strictly secular law.

    Wake up, people. No political body or church dogma decided about anything here. Polish people made the decision and the majority of them was against abortion. Women even more than men. As long as you speak from the self-righteous “liberal” point of view about how you’re free-thinkers and the others are not, and so you know better what’s better for them, there’s no place for a dialogue at all.

    You don’t even wonder what Polish people think, or what made them make the decision, you just assume you know that they’re held hostages by the Catholic church and are too stupid to think for themselves.

    And, Basia, what makes you think that you have more right to speak for Polish people than the Catholic church does? If you’re guys all so liberal surely you’re not so short sighted as to bar anyone from sharing their opinion.

    Michael: Generally flat dogmatic statements (abortion is murder; unlimited abortion on demand is every woman’s right) tend to stop any debate about abortion in its tracks and prevent any kind of sane legislation.

    Ditto!

  16. Sylwia:
    What about the crazy media circus that arose earlier this summer surrounding Agata the 14 year old who under polish law was entitled to a medical procedure (abortion) to terminate her pregnancy. You’re telling me that the Church wasn’t involved in that fiasco?

    Agata was within her legal rights to terminate the pregnancy, when then was it nearly impossible for her to do so? Why was her privacy so horribly invaded?

    Sylwia, why are you getting so upset? I voiced my opinion, that’s all…that’s what the exchange of ideas is all about. How does that make me self righteous? It is up to your government (through the people that elect them) and policy makers to make laws not me. I just believe that democracies function better when there is a clear separation between God and Government

  17. Sylwia: “No… church dogma decided about anything here.”

    This is transparently untrue. The Catholic Church has a huge influence on the opinions of the general population. Voters grow up in a culture saturated by catholic teaching, even those that don’t become regular church-goers in later life. I’m not convinced that the majority of the Polish electorate would have reached the decision that abortion is wrong in the absence of the church.

    Having said that, I certainly don’t believe that Poland is some kind of thinly disguised theocracy in which the church secretly hold the reigns of power, that’s clearly not the case.

    I think you are guilty of the same kind of generalization that you are accusing us of (whoever ‘us’ is in this context).

  18. Sylwia said “As long as you speak from the self-righteous “liberal” point of view about how you’re free-thinkers and the others are not, and so you know better what’s better for them, there’s no place for a dialogue at all.”

    Why does “liberal” have to be immediately self-righteous? It’s not as if pro-choicers will FORCE pro-lifers to get abortions if/when abortion is made legal.

    This is how I see it:
    As long as you speak from the self-righteous “pro-life” point of view about how you’re protecting life and the others are not, and so you know better what’s better for them, there’s no place for a dialogue at all.

  19. Sylwia, I don’t know how old you are, but I was in Poland when the law was changed and I knew people from across the social spectrum from the very well off to the near destitute (with an emphasis on the barely making ends almost meet) and I don’t remember a single person who was in favor of the current law or the process that brought it about.

    In retrospect if I had to pinpoint a single moment that changed the public’s attitude toward the church that was it. Along with compulsory religious instruction in state schools it made the church look power hungry and awakend the inherent distrust Poles feel for authority figures.

    In terms of that single issue, the church forcing itself into politics worked. Uni students now are far more anti-abortion rights than they were in 1992. On the other hand, they’re far more negative towards the church than they were back then and a surprising number have open contempt for priests and a lot of other church doctrine.

  20. Hi: I’ll give my private opinion, too.

    If one supports the right to decide on an abortion by any woman, then one believes that the child is fully dependent on the parent. To be consequent, one must believe further, that the father has as much say as mother, and the child can be terminated until the age of 18, when by law the child becomes the adult.

    I am grateful to Sylwia for mentioning that the KK is treated on this forum like some black seething mass clouding the vision of people, while for me it is a conscious choice. It offers me much more than just the belief that people can’t be killed, even if they are just foetuses, or skinny girls like me. It offers the belief that I will still be human after my body dies.

    What is more: in Poland, unlike the United Kingdom, there is no religion of state, C of E. The influence of KK comes from the majority of people who belong to it. It wasn’t always the majority, before Poland being chopped up with Jalta, Polish Catholics have been a minority in our own State – I’m very proud of that part of my history. For example: learn more about Muslim Tatars, Orthodox Ruthenians, Judaic Jews, Evangelical Germans et alia. All this is gone and the smart looking smarties like to say that Poland is a homogeneous country. Well, much less than the North of UK.

    As to the priest marriage – that’s how this organisation decide to govern itself.

    The Church forcing itself into politics, has the same right to do so, as the Reds forcing themselves into politics. Or the Monarchist Club for that matter. Freedom of Speech, remember? Gag the KK, and the rest will be gagged as well.

    To answer the post – I believe that there is no reason whatsoever to legalise killing, like abortion, euthanasia, suicide, and stem cells research, for the following reason – people will always do it, like killing a passer-by for his/her wallet. But for some reason people who want to kill the weakest of the human beings, babies or elders, not only plan to kill but also want to be agreed with. And may I just remind you all of the many times when it was all right to kill certain groups of people – for me particularity important is how my great grandparents got locked in the Lodz Ghetto. So to me it’s simple. Nazis needed lebensraum, women need the right to choose, doctors need the right to clear hospital beds.

    Thank you for the occasion to publicly defend the weakest.

  21. Anna, I haven’t made any pro-life argument yet, have I? I only said that I don’t like the rhetoric.

    I don’t equate liberal with self-righteous. That’s why I put the word in quotation marks. People make self-righteous arguments, saying that they’re liberal. I think that liberalism should mean tolerance towards opposite views, not derision. Liberal, at least at the beginning, meant “let everyone think or do as they like”. Today it’s more like “if you don’t think like I do you’re not liberal”.

    Island: “The Catholic Church has a huge influence on the opinions of the general population.”

    Of course! Depending on what you understand behind “huge” we might agree on that. I certainly think that Polish morality comes from the Catholic culture in a huge part. It doesn’t mean that Poles subscribe to the actual views of the Church in general, that’s why I use the word culture rather than religion, but surely it’s a significant influence anyway. Yet, we are the Polish nation. A group of people with certain views. Usually as diverse as it goes in any other country, with the majority feeling strongly or mildly about some things. It doesn’t matter what influences us. Atheism, agnosticism, liberalism, Catholicism, Protestantism etc are all some kind of ideologies. One is not able to be free from all of them. The fact that you like yours more than others is just the influence of your own upbringing. It doesn’t mean that it’s better or wiser, just that you like it more because it’s yours. Polish people have the right to decide about themselves no matter what’s theirs. I’m not converting you, am I? We’re speaking of Poland not of UK. The way arguments are formed here suggests that Poles aren’t able to make their own laws, or right choices, because their influence is wrong.

    “I’m not convinced that the majority of the Polish electorate would have reached the decision that abortion is wrong in the absence of the church.”

    I’m sure you’re right, but what’s the point? That if Poles weren’t Poles they wouldn’t think like Poles? I’m sure I don’t know how it is to be born an Englishman, and you don’t know how it is to be born a Pole. We’re just not there and we’ll never be. The presence of the Church is tied to Polish national awareness. It’s even more certain that without the Church there would be no Polish people at all. We’d merge with others. One cannot speak of the Church as an alien body within the Polish nation, because it’s not the case. We are defined by the Church in a non-religious dimension far more than in the religious one. We can either love it or hate it, but we always exist in a relation to it, even those of us who aren’t Catholics. The fact is that Polish people, who are who they are, made a decision about themselves. You may not like the decision, but they have the right to make it.

    Either you think that Poles, with the moral views they have, would be happier with laws made by other nations that have different moral views, or that Poles should change their moral views to imitate non-Poles. I think you expect too much, even if you truly believe it’d be best for everyone, to which of course you’re fully entitled. Yet don’t be surprised when I cry out that such a view about myself is arrogant. There is a difference between knowing what’s best for oneself, and knowing what’s best for others.

    Basia, there was a priest involved in Agata’s case, and pro-lifers, and pro-choicers. All of them equally fanatical in pursuing their cause. I don’t think that pro-choicers are any more justified in sending nasty emails or SMS-s than pro-lifers are. And the pro-choice Wyborcza was pretty active in spurring the “crazy media circus”. My problem is not in people’s having opinions, only in barring others from having their own. Either we give both parties the right to influence such cases as Agata’s or none of them.

    I’m not upset as a member of the Catholic Church, I’m upset as a Pole. We are not little kids unable to think independently only because we care more or less for the Church. We are still able to form our own opinions, just as people in the West do, no matter what Church or what government is there.

    I’m not saying that one option is always better than another. What I’m saying is that there’s no dialogue when you tell the other party to shut up. I think that the pro-choice option is needed so that I could hear their arguments, and the Catholic Church is needed, so that I could hear theirs. When I make a decision I want to have an access to as many arguments in the discussion as possible, which doesn’t change the fact that my own decision will be ultimately in accordance with my own conscience, and no one else’s. I certainly don’t expect you to be influenced by the Church, especially against your own inclination. But I’m sure that you can phrase your arguments without attacking the opposite ones as illegitimate.

    IMHO Poles’ views on life and death, kids, abortion etc are much more influenced by the experience of war than by the Church. A discussion about abortion in the West will unfold around a woman’s inconvenience. The same discussion in Poland will go down to radical war comparisons, like what’s the difference between risking one’s life to save a Jewish child, and 9 months of inconvenience to save a not yet born child. If people are told to care for one they can’t be told not to care for the other. It’s a matter of logic and consequence. It doesn’t mean that similar discussions in the West aren’t logical or consequent, only that people speak on another level, without reaching to such comparisons. Even those Poles, like myself, who were born years after the war, are saturated by literature repeating over and over that life is the highest value, and no comforts or inconveniences of a human being should take precedence. One can’t expect that people who had completely different experiences will see the world as those who didn’t have them at all. People in the West don’t understand the Polish rhetoric, and Poles don’t understand how such serious questions can be ignored. Poles see life and death through a magnifying glass.

    Poles are not radical pro-lifers, but arguments of radical pro-choicers don’t speak to them, because those arguments are all about a woman’s body, while ignoring the existence of the child. To influence the public opinion here one has to move beyond both extremes. I’m just asking everyone to recognize the reality instead of carrying out some kind of a witch hunt that leads nowhere.

    “It is up to your government (through the people that elect them) and policy makers to make laws not me.”

    Yes, and they already made it! It was a decision of the majority, and if you don’t speak of it as such you don’t respect it as such. You don’t have to like it! But while speaking of whether “Should abortion still be illegal in Poland” you should acknowledge that it’s not the Church having power over a woman’s body. It’s the Polish society.

    What I object to are the stereotypes influencing discussions. Poles are often blamed for March 1968 events even though there was nothing they could do about it, but anti-Semitism and Poles go well in people’s perception. At the same time, in a discussion about abortion, the Church is blamed because it’s another leap easy to make. Well, no, it wasn’t the Church that made the decision, those were the Polish people, so let’s put the blame or praise, depending on how you see it, where its due. Let’s take responsibility for our own choices, and discuss them as such.

    It may be of interest that the percent of Poles subscribing to the Catholic dogma on abortion was 4,1% in 1989 and 2,7% in 1998, while the group supporting abortion on demand was 19,1% and 13,6% respectively. The law as it is was influenced by the remaining majority who mostly cared for abortion not being another form of contraceptives. Whether they succeeded in making a good legislation is yet another matter, and by all means let’s discuss it.

  22. About the church …… My own opinion is that the RC can and should have some kind of public voice and influence on Polish people but it tends to want a lot more than that. Also, it’s badly outstepped its role in the years since the fall of communism. This is because Polish people aren’t, on the whole, very religious in any way that Americans understand.

    The most meaningful expressions of Catholocism in Poland are almost always tied heavily to politics, specifically the politics of resistance, whether the resistance is against the communist regime or the inequities of capitalist democracy a la Radio Maryja. But when the church tries to intervene in day to day, non-crisis politics, it degrades itself into just another political entity (in a country where most people not so secretly despise politics and politicians).

    Getting back to abortion. Let’s leave theoretical arguments aside and look at some facts of human behavior.

    1. Some non-trivial percentage of women do not equate pregnancy with a duty to give birth.
    2. Some non-trivial percentage of women who are sure of what they would do if pregnant change their minds once they’re in an unplanned pregnancy (this goes in both directions).
    3. Most women (I suspect the overwhelming majority) do not seriously consider giving up children for adoption as a realistic or desirable option (especially in Poland where adoption is unpopular, stigmatized and difficult).
    4. Almost no one seriously considers abortion to be murder. If they did, they would insist on legal punishment for women who get abortions. Hardly anyone wants to put a woman in prison for the rest of her life for getting an abortion.
    5. Almost no one considers a fetus in the first and last trimesters in the same way. A non-trivial amount of fertilized eggs are either not implanted or spontaneously aborted by their mothers for various reasons and no one AFAIK thinks of these cases in the same way they do a 7th month miscarriage or a stillbirth.
    6. Some women who get abortions regret it later.
    7. Most women who have abortions have only fleeting or occasional pangs of regret.

    My own ethical position to abortion is that it depends on the stage of pregnancy. Roughly I don’t think of first trimester abortion as much of a moral question. I think it becomes a big deal at some undefinable time in the second trimester (natural viability) and third trimester abortion is a very bad idea (except in outstanding medical circumstances). I also think that any woman getting an abortion should probably seek counselling before and after and a woman who finds herself in the position of wanting a second abortion should examine her life choices more closely.

    Essentially I’m pro-choice and part of this is that I don’t have (or want!) a stake in what people I don’t know choose to do (and I realize that a part of that is people might come to regret some of their choices). At heart I’m a hands off kind of guy who doesn’t believe in trying to micro-manage other people’s lives.
    My disagreement with the pro-life side is that they are telling other people what to do and want to use the power of the state to enforce their beliefs on people that do not share them. As long as they limit their arguments to persuasion and not compulsion I wish them well in their efforts.

  23. Michael, you pinpointed the gist of the Polish-Catholic relation. Poles like to think that the Church is theirs. The Church loses whenever it begins to treat them as its people. In the 1980s the Church was a refuge. Even Jewish activists met with people in churches. After 1989 it appeared that the Church actually also has something to say, and Poles ran away from it as fast as they could. The number of churchgoers dropped by half in just two years, yet before the legislation, and in the next elections Poles voted for the only party that couldn’t be suspected of any relations with the Church – the post-communists.

    Father Rydzyk is like a Polish Paris Hilton. No one listens to Radio Maryja, everyone talks about father Rydzyk. He makes more harm to the Church than to our politics.

    I apologize if I came off too harshly. I’ve just read too many blatant statements about the Church recently. Not only in this thread but in general, and I guess I reached my limit.

    Back then everyone wanted the Church to stay away, and yet the majority had certain views that are reflected in the current law. Actually I think that people are more anti-abortion today than they were back then because they began to think about it more independently, and not just in reaction to what the Church says. At the same time there are more people decidedly pro-choice, because they see the situation in a new reality.

    I’m not sure it’s fair to compare the situation in Poland to that in other countries, because something like that didn’t happen there. The 1967 Act in England didn’t actually legalise abortions, but provided exceptions. Today it means abortion on demand in practice, but it wasn’t meant by the law in spirit. We did have such a law in Poland yet in 1932. Later we had real abortion on demand under the Nazi law. And since 1956 there was a law that in practice was abortion on demand. The number of abortions in England today is ca. 190,000. The peak in Poland was over 270,000 with a much smaller population, and since not all abortions were registered (only those carried out in hospitals) it’s estimated that it could be twice as many. Abortion was the latest stage of contraception, and many women did think about it like that. One of the news that horrified people back then was that many women had 7 abortions.

    An important turn in the public dispute was the publication of a foetus’s pictures in the press. Abortion was legal up to the end of the first trimester (today there’s no limit when there’s something wrong with the foetus), and people used to think that foetus is not a baby. The majority didn’t think of a concept of a soul at all. Those were the pics that influenced the opinion of many. Suddenly it appeared that even an 8 weeks old foetus has little eyes and ears, hands and legs, and little fingers. It looked disturbingly like a tiny human being and not a thing as people used to believe. That changes everything, because once one considers a foetus as a human one cannot be impartial towards its fate. 55% of people back then considered abortion as a murder, and one can’t expect them to give their allowance for it.

    Then came the moment that in my opinion differs Poland from other countries, that is people had to decide, because there was to be a referendum. There’s a huge difference between a passive attitude to abortion, such as was earlier in Poland and is in the West now, and an active one, where people can no longer stay outside of the problem but have to have their say about the lives of others.

    The anti-abortion law is called a difficult compromise, not because it’s not a compromise, only because it’s one that no one wanted to reach. People weren’t coming from a pro-life or pro-choice option, rather they tried to agree both. Earlier, to hear about abortion was like to hear that someone drowned in another part of the country. Whatever one felt about it there was nothing one could do. Suddenly people had to say whether they preferred the mother or the baby to drown. In most cases people decided to rescue the baby, because the mother can swim, and only in those where she couldn’t (like when her health or life was in danger, the foetus wasn’t healthy, or the pregnancy was an effect of a crime, so the woman had no influence on the situation) they decided it should be the woman to choose. In other words they decided against abortion in every case where the pregnancy could have been prevented by contraceptives. They also decided not to punish the woman because her personal and emotional situation can be difficult for many unforeseen reasons, and also because punishing her would bar her from seeking professional help in case of complications. If a woman has an illegal abortion in Poland and her health is threatened she can and should see a doctor and tell the truth.

    Back then I was decidedly pro-choice. Today I see several aspects of the law. Some positive, some negative.

    The attitude to such a law should be changing together with the progress of technology and along with the situation of women in general. In the past a woman practically had no access to good methods of contraception. Moreover, in many countries her situation was such that she could neither avoid pregnancy, nor be accepted by the society with a child. Any ban on abortions meant either a woman’s ruin, or a risk of an operation in a dirty cellar. The fact that the number of abortions in developed countries doesn’t fall, and sometimes grows, even though women have access to cheap and good contraceptives, is a failure. It means that women still have unprotected sex thinking that they’ll have an abortion in case of troubles.

    Such a law like in Poland forces women to change their attitude. I remember teenage girls having a quick abortion on their way home from school. It shouldn’t be that easy. When the legislation was made black market was an everyday reality. Everyone knew that women still would have access to doctors who’d carry out abortions in a professional and safe way. It’s Poland after all, and Poles thought along all of the available options, not only the legal ones. One can find proper announcements in newspapers today. Infanticide didn’t grow because of the legislation (the number of babies left in hospitals for adoption did though). But at the same time no one longer thinks of abortion as a casual 15 minutes long visit.

    With today’s pharmacology there shouldn’t be abortions because a condom broke or someone had an unprotected sex. Morning after pills and other emergency contraceptives are legal in Poland. In the vast majority of cases an unwanted pregnancy isn’t an effect of misfortune, but of neglect and irresponsibility. And it’s not a good idea that abortion should be a way to deal with it. A woman’s right to abortion should not mean her right to treat it as contraception.

    No one knows how many Polish women have abortions today, but the number of venereal diseases fell down several times, much faster than in other post-communist countries, which means that people think of protection more than they used to.

    Not always a woman’s right to abortion means a free choice. In many cases a woman was forced to abortion by her family, partner, or the society. Many girls in my lyceum had abortion simply because young mothers were unheard of, were called stupid, and in effect the girls’ motivation was shame and nothing else. Social stigma is a strong enforcement too.

    There were only two girls in my lyceum that decided to give birth. One about two years before the legislation. She quitted the school before it showed. The other soon after the legislation took place, and she was given all the support needed to finish the school. That was a positive change. It’s not even an issue of children having children. A girl ends lyceum when she’s 19, which is a normal age to have a kid in many Western countries. It just wasn’t in Poland.

    On the other hand a part of the legislation was to be sexual education, which in fact not only didn’t improve, but worsened. There’s no problem from the point of view of the Catholic Church that thinks that people shouldn’t have pre-marital sex anyway, but it’s against the majority of people that were deciding about the issue at that time.

    Another problem is the stigmatization of abortion. It wasn’t only the Church that was against it back then, those were also the doctors who called abortion unethical during one of the sessions of their association, and today they refuse to carry out an abortion even when women are legally justified to have one. The number of legal abortions in Poland is tiny today. Much smaller than it’d be reasonable to expect.

    There’s also a conflict of interests when women don’t want to speak of their situation. Not every raped woman feels free to go to police, and if she doesn’t she can’t have a legal abortion. Of course that isn’t just a problem of the law. An ideal situation would be such when a woman would always feel free to go to police in case of rape or incest, and even a better one if she weren’t raped in the first place. That’s rather a wishful thinking though.

    As it usually is in Poland the entire system behind the law isn’t working, so people don’t know what to do, where to go etc. It’s a real shame.

    There’s also a tiny number of women who can become pregnant even though they used contraceptives. No method is 100% successful. Then they’re left without a legal recourse, even though it’s not their fault.

    Another problem is that no law solves a problem. I think that everyone might agree that abortion is wrong, or at least not good, because it’s not an affirmative thing. It’s always an effect of ‘something didn’t go as planned’. People have sex in order to have kids, or to reach physical satisfaction, but no one goes to bed hoping for an abortion. So everyone’s aim should be the reduction of the number of real abortions, no matter where, how, or why they take place.

    Both kinds of law, such a restrictive one like in Poland and such a liberal one like elsewhere push the real problem away. People battle over the law instead of working on the solution. It’s as if we had two fractions, one claiming that people should have free sex, and then the HIV infected should be killed off, and the other arguing that people shouldn’t have sex at all, while no one would be working on preventing AIDS.

    I don’t think that being pro-choice is always a sign of tolerance. On the contrary, it’s often just pushing the problem away. Let’s leave the woman with it. We’re glad if she chooses to give birth, because it was her free choice, and sad if she doesn’t because she had to make a difficult decision, but in any case we’re glad that we didn’t have to make it.

    The pro-choice fraction gives some real life examples of women who can’t have an abortion in Poland. One is a woman who lives with an abusive husband who continuously rapes her, without using condoms, and she asks how she can avoid pregnancy. I think that if a pro-women organisation uses such an example to prove the need for the liberalisation of the anti-abortion law instead of telling the woman to 1.) buy any kind of contraceptives other than condoms at once, and 2.) leave the abusive husband at once, providing her with addresses where she could go, there’s something more wrong with the organization even than with the woman. One can’t say let her have an abortion and all will be well! On the other hand they are right when they say that Ms. Tysiąc should have been allowed to have an abortion because of the problems with her eyes.

    Of course thanks to the Polish law we pushed the problem away entirely. We have no idea about all of the women who have abortions now, their problems or how to help them. The real aim of the Polish people was to reduce the problem. Instead it mutated in a ridiculous way, and I think a reform is needed. It’s good that more and more young people are anti-abortion, because it means they’re more responsible than they used to be, but it doesn’t solve the problem in its entirety. What we really need is a middle option, that might agree the majority. We lack an honest discussion today. The Church says the truth, but ignores the reality, expecting that everyone should live up to its teaching. The pro-choice fraction falsifies the truth in their statements and data, and that leads nowhere too. How am I supposed to trust Wanda Nowicka when I catch her on blatant lies that are simply convenient in pursuing her cause?

    The numbers from England are worrisome in more ways than one. We knew that there would be abortion tourism. It’s neither surprising nor illegal. On the contrary, a Polish woman can have an abortion, just no Polish person can offer the service to her outside of the legal exceptions. But the numbers refer mostly to Polish women living in Britain, and not those travelling from Poland. There are thousands of very young girls in a new environment where they can’t cope well. There’s an abortion underground in Britain that’s more dangerous than that in Poland, because the operations aren’t done by doctors only some frauds. There are 20 years old girls from small towns who always lived in their parents’ homes, and now they’re in the huge London, without knowing the language, and without a family or friends to support them. It’s not only likely that they wouldn’t decide on abortion had they lived in Poland, but also that they wouldn’t have sex with married men from their work. Their private and emotional life would be much different. What they’re going through is not normal. They live neither like Polish girls here nor like British girls there.

    For those who can read in Polish here’s an article from Wyborcza about legal and illegal abortions in the UK.

  24. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Poland, UK: Abortion

  25. Pingback: Fly to Poland » Blog archive » Poland, UK: Abortion

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  27. “To be consequent, one must believe further, that the father has as much say as mother, and the child can be terminated until the age of 18, when by law the child becomes the adult.”

    Think about this, if you were in a situation where you could save a container with 100 fertilised eggs (they can become a week old and maybe longer with new developments) or 1 live baby, which would you choose, how hard would you have to think about it?
    There is a clear and distinct difference to the unborn child and no religion or law will change the fact that women will want and perform abortions. Only education and contraceptives can reduce abortions.
    Also think about what should be done to women who have abortions when abortion is made illegal, should they go to prison? Pay a fine? Be sterilized?

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