Choice or life?

Recently there has been something happening in my homeland. Something that has brought out both the best and the worst in my countrymen. Something that concerns an issue – one I don’t think anyone likes to talk about but has to be talked about. The Polish parliament has received two new proposals, both pertaining to the same law. The abortion law.

Protesters in front of parliament in Warsaw, author: Kaja Palusińska.
Protesters in front of parliament in Warsaw, author: Kaja Palusińska.

A little context first. By European standards, Poland has some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws. Not the most restrictive – that title goes to Ireland and Andorra. In most countries on the continent, abortion is available without restriction, provided a legitimate reason is given. In Poland, abortion is allowed only in order to save the woman’s life or health (both physical and/or mental), when a pregnancy results from rape or incest, or if a life-long impairment/disability/illness has been detected in the child. That law has existed in Poland since 1993. Prior to that, the laws were like the ones in all those other countries: nonrestrictive. This resulted from being a member of the eastern block during the Cold War, where abortion was seen as means of population control. After the law change, it wasn’t really touched. None of the political parties wanted to risk losing support of the public over this extremely divisive issue. During the most recent election, the Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc (PiS, eng. Law and Justice) party won both the parliamentary majority and the presidential seat. This party’s views on morality and social issues are heavily reliant on Catholic fundamentalism, and it gets most of its support from devout Catholics.

So the two proposals are to liberalize the law – to the European standard – on the one hand, and to make abortion completely illegal on the other. In addition to that the ruling party also wants to make it punishable by law to cause a death of an unborn child. Mostly, this targets doctors who perform abortions, but it also goes after would-be mothers. Interestingly the Church is against this, the latter bit that is. Polish bishops have spoken out against punishing women for undergoing abortions. So, it seems, PiS MPs want to take us further back into the Middle Ages, than even the clergy dare.

That’s the worst in my countrymen. The best? There have been protests and demonstrations against the strict proposal, and it wasn’t just a few women. Over a thousand women and men protested outside of the parliament building in Warsaw on Sunday 18th September. Out of 215,000 signatures collected in support of liberalizing the law, approximately 70,000 were men. Also, there are videos showing something I never expected. The Polish Church released a letter in support of the second project (with exception of punishing women). It was read out during a Sunday mass’ sermon and people started leaving churches in protest. Again, both men and women. Now, these were not feminist, or liberal, activists without a god. These  were devout Catholics, the kind that spend their day off in church.

Let me throw some stats at you. Firstly, it’s hard to find statistics about those two projects. I’ve seen conflicting reports from Polish news outlets. Newsweek  claims that most Poles agree with liberalizing the law, while Wiadomosci claims most are in favour of keeping the current law. So I wouldn’t rely on those reports too much. Faced with that problem, I’ve looked at what CBOS (Public Opinion Research Center) has to say about that. It turns out, that in 2016:

  • 84% of Poles said abortion should be available if there is danger to a mother’s life
  • 76% if there is danger to her health
  • 74% if pregnancy was a result of rape or incest
  • an average of 80% were against abortion being allowed for socio-economic reasons (i.e. if a woman can’t afford or doesn’t want a baby)

Whichever way you look, Poles are against making the law stricter.

Out of curiosity, I looked at some international figures as well. More specifically, figures from another European country, with a predominantly Catholic population and more liberal abortion laws. French law allows unrestricted access to abortion (with a legitimate reason) within 12 weeks of conception since 1975. Trying to see how the law change affected the abortion rates proved impossible, much to my disappointment. The records started only following the law change. According to The French Institute for Demographic Studies (INED), abortion rates have remained stable over the past 40 years. Less women get abortions, but the number of women with repeated abortions has risen.

Now comes the hard part (that’s what she said): what do I think about all this. Well, let me start by saying what I’m certain about. I am certainly against making abortion completely illegal, and even more against making it punishable by law. This is where thing get complicated. You see, I believe that abortion should only be available under certain circumstances. Specifically, the ones mentioned by the Polish law. I do not see socio-economic reasons as legitimate. “But what about a woman’s right to chose?” I hear you scream. I’m not denying the woman’s right to choose, but it’s not just about that. We also have to consider the right to live. Now, I’m not a religious man, so I don’t see that right as god given, or abortion as a sin for which you shall burn in hell for all eternity. Like all human rights, the right to live is an innate part of being human. Some of you might argue that it’s just a bunch of rapidly multiplying cells, that it doesn’t look human, that it doesn’t even have a brain. Yet, that sort of thinking is… upsetting to me. I will fall on the ruling made by the Polish Constitutional Tribunal. To paraphrase: a child is human from the moment of conception, regardless of its development stage. I agree. We cannot put a timer on humanity as if it’s a roasting chicken.

On the matter of choice now. A woman has the right to choose, of course. We can’t force a rapes woman to give birth to the assailant’s baby. We need to consider the psychological torment. However, if she chose to have sex, she should be ready to accept its consequences. So should the man for that matter. WARNING! Sexual intercourse is the leading cause of pregnancy. So what should a teenage girl who accidentally got pregnant do? I know it sounds harsh, but she shouldn’t have had sex if she wasn’t prepared to have a baby. And again, the same goes for her partner/boyfriend. I’m not advertising abstinence, god no. I’m merely advocating taking responsibility for one’s actions. That includes using contraception and getting a job if it didn’t work. If it was fully consensual and everyone is healthy – then grow up, you’ve got a baby to take care of.

That’s what I think about all that.


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