WARSAW, Poland, June 28, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - After months of shielding the initiative from English media, organizers of a massive pro-life grassroots campaign in Poland have now told LifeSiteNews.com that Parliamentarians in the country are preparing to vote this week on an historic bill that would enshrine total protection for children in the womb from the moment of conception.
The organizers told LSN that they were worried that if the news broke in the English-speaking world, pro-abortion foreign powers would have poured money into the country to oppose their popular efforts.
To bring the abortion ban before Parliament under Poland’s political system, the sponsors needed to collect 100,000 signatures within three months. They got 600,000 in two weeks.
The bill, which comes up for first reading in the ‘Sejm’ (lower house) on Thursday, is the result of a huge nation-wide grassroots initiative launched by Warsaw’s PRO Foundation and supported by the country’s bishops and a newly-formed pro-life parliamentary committee.
Abortion was first foisted on the deeply Catholic people of Poland after Hitler’s tanks stormed the country 70 years ago; but the demise of the Nazis was followed by decades of state-promoted abortion-on-demand under their Soviet successors.
“This project is a chance to finally reject the heritage of Nazism and Communism which brought ‘legal abortion’ to Poland in the first place,” Jacek Sapa of the PRO Foundation told LifeSiteNews. “It was Hitler and Stalin who imposed it on Poles and it’s high time we clearly disassociate ourselves from those deadly ideologies.”
“The Church clearly teaches that it is the obligation of Catholics not to protect the current ‘compromise’ but to aim at complete protection of life,” said Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, former personal assistant to Blessed John Paul II, in an interview for Gosc Niedzielny, Poland’s largest opinion weekly. “This is a solution, which the Church calls for. I support all efforts aiming at improving the protection of human life.”
The status quo on abortion: Illegal, but “not punishable” if…
Ever since the Communists were overthrown in 1989, Poland has labored to restore its cultural and religious heritage. As part of that project, in 1993 the country passed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the West. Since then, abortions have fallen dramatically, with Ministry of Health data showing a drop from 82,000 abortions in 1989 to about 500 in 2008.
Under the current law, abortions can only be obtained where the child is diagnosed with a serious defect or disease, where the mother is diagnosed with a health problem, or where the pregnancy resulted from “illegal activity.”
However, the law and its exceptions are often abused by pro-abortion doctors. ‘Defect’ can be deemed to include something as minimal as cleft palate, and though abortions are only supposed to take place up to the point of viability, or about 24 weeks, in practice doctors can fudge the dates. Further, though pregnancies resulting from “illegal activity” would seem to refer to pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest, it can also be applied to teen pregnancies on the basis that the law forbids sex with a person under 15 years of age.
Although abortions under the exceptions occur without penalty, a point often missed is that even under the current law, abortion is always “illegal” in Poland. The law merely states that under the exceptions abortions are “not punishable.”
Striking down the exceptions
The PRO Foundation’s citizens’ bill is the first attempt to institute a total ban on abortion since the current law passed in 1993. The bill would strike down all three exceptions in the abortion law, applying the current penalties in all cases.
Under the law, doctors caught performing illegal abortions face up to 3 years imprisonment, or up to 8 years where the child was viable. The same penalties are applied to anyone who pressures a woman into abortion, or helps her obtain one. The mother faces no penalties.
The bill will be debated in the ‘Sejm’ at first reading on Thursday, with a vote to decide its fate on Thursday or Friday. If it gets 50% plus one vote, then it will move to committee for consideration, and then back to the ‘Sejm’ for a second and then third vote. It would then go to the Senate for a vote, and, if passed, the country’s president must decide whether to sign it into law. If he does not, then the Parliament would need to give it two-thirds support in order to overturn his veto.
Sapa said the bill has a “realistic” chance of passing, noting that 90% of parliamentarians are Catholics who have an interest in appearing on side with the Church. “Politicians opposing this pro-life law risk openly defying the Church and this simply does not pay,” he explained. “Poles are still a Catholic nation, and politicians often seek to present themselves as faithful Catholics during electoral campaigns to gain popularity.
“A vote for abortion would belie their ‘Catholic’ public image,” he added.
In 2007, an effort to enshrine the “right to life from conception to natural death” in the Polish constitution won support from 60% of parliamentarians, but failed because it needed two-thirds. That amendment, however, would not have had the immediate effect of removing the exceptions for abortion.
Supported by the bishops
The Polish Bishops’ Conference has campaigned for the bill’s passage through letters to politicians, public statements, and efforts to mobilize the faithful into prayer and lobbying.
In a letter signed by Bishop Kazimierz Gorny, head of the bishops’ Council for the Family, they told politicians that “the fate of this Nation is in your hands.” “[Act] so that every conceived child - whether healthy or unwell - has the right to life, without exception, and would not be threatened by the law allowing for their killing,” they wrote.
“We must stop the wave of killing in Polish hospitals. We must formulate the law in such a way, that it will obviously imply the right to life for every child, including sick children,” said Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, archbishop metropolitan of Poznan, last week.
Mobilizing the pro-life politicians
Bogumil Lozinski of Gosc Niedzielny, the nation’s largest Catholic weekly, said that the grassroots effort has mobilized not only the populace, but pro-life politicians as well. “One of the greatest effects of the whole debate is that a group for the protection of life has been formed within the parliament,” he wrote. “The parliamentarians who formed it say openly that their main goal is to pass this bill and encourage their colleagues to vote for it.”
This pro-life parliamentary committee boasts members from nearly all the political parties, except for the pro-abortion and communist Democratic Left Alliance. One of the founding members is Jacek Zalek from the ruling Civic Platform party.
“The defense of life and dignity of people is an obligation of every society and it is not a question of religion,” Zalek wrote in the major daily paper Rzeczpospolita. “You don’t have to be a believer to be able to tell good from evil. Affirmation of the value of life results from natural law and goes beyond political competition between parties.”
Creating the conditions for success
Mariusz Dzierżawski of the PRO Foundation told LifeSiteNews that the campaign has been bolstered by a major cultural shift towards life in recent years, with Poles now strongly in favor of full protections for the unborn. The shift, he says, is thanks to the “unrelenting efforts” of pro-lifers who have organized exhibitions, rallies, and other campaigns to educate the public.
A June 3rd survey showed 65% of Poles agreeing that the law “should unconditionally protect the life of all children since conception.” Only 23% supported abortions in cases where unborn children of 24 weeks or less were diagnosed with a “serious disease.”
Significantly, 76% of those aged 15 to 24-years-old wanted total protection for the unborn – the most of any age group. The lowest level of support came from the oldest age bracket, 55 to 70 years old, but still with 57% supporting total protection.
Jaroslaw Kniolek of the PRO Foundation noted that this older generation grew up under the Communists, when abortion was widespread and forced on the culture. “Young people, on the other hand, not only have the knowledge of the facts of abortion, they also have wonderful role models, especially young Catholics of the ‘JP2 generation’,” he said.
Only six years ago, in 2005, the CBOS polling firm found that 57% of Poles would allow for early abortions, while only 36% were against it. By 2009, they found that only 31% allowed for the abortions, while 64% were against it. Then, earlier this year, their poll showed that 85% of Polish citizens identified themselves as pro-life, while only 9% supported access to abortion.
“We now have a great social basis for a change in the law, and we will change the law to make it pro-life,” Dzierżawski said. “Even if it shouldn’t happen this year, it will in the coming years.”