WARSAW, Poland — Although abortion is illegal in most cases in Poland, hundreds of unborn children with disabilities — especially Down syndrome — are legally killed there each year. However, recent events suggest that Poland will ban eugenic abortion in the near future.
Abortion on demand was legalized in Poland during communist rule. Following Poland’s return to democracy in 1989, many Catholics began to demand legislation that would better protect the human rights of the unborn.
In 1993, the Polish government made abortion illegal except in three cases: when the pregnancy threatens the mother’s life or physical health, when it results from rape or incest, and in the case of “fetal malformation.”
The overwhelming majority of legal abortions in Poland are related to the latter circumstance: According to Poland’s Ministry of Health, 1,042 of 1,098 abortions legally performed in Poland in 2016 were because prenatal testing showed that the baby would have a genetic defect (by comparison, only one legal abortion performed that year resulted from rape or incest). Disturbingly, more than a third of legal abortions were performed in Poland when the unborn child was diagnosed with Down syndrome.
“Down syndrome or other illnesses cannot deprive a person of the right to birth and to life,” Father Pawel Rytel-Andrianik, spokesman of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, said at a March 21 news conference in Krakow, held to mark World Down Syndrome Day.
“From the words that children with Down syndrome are wanted, we must go to actions,” Father Rytel-Andrianik emphasized at the event.
Although Poland’s abortion legislation is more pro-life than anywhere else in Europe except Malta, Andorra and the Republic of Ireland, Polish pro-lifers have in recent years campaigned for laws that further protect human life. According to Polish law, if a civic initiative receives 100,000 signatures within three months, it is submitted to the Parliament for a vote.
Last fall, the “Stop Abortion” (Zatrzymaj aborcję) initiative, which would ban the aborting of children with genetic defects, collected the signatures of 830,000 Polish citizens, far more than the minimum required number.
At the same time, the Ratujmy Kobiety (“Save the Women”) committee claimed to have collected 400,000 signatures for an initiative that would liberalize Poland’s abortion law, introduce permission sex education and ban pro-life protests. However, the conservative Ordo Iuris nongovernmental organization (NGO) claims that the number of signatures for the pro-abortion initiative was only 200,000 and has requested a prosecutor’s investigation to see if its organizers were lying. Even if Save the Women’s organizers are correct, this still means that the pro-life committee received more than twice as many signatures of Polish citizens.
“I hope that nothing will stop greater legal protection of human life in Poland this time,” Karina Walinowicz of Ordo Iuris told the Register, adding that a “record number of Polish women and men” supported the “Stop Abortion” initiative.
A Mother’s Leadership
Kaja Godek of the Life and Family Foundation (Fundacja Życie i Rodzina), the head of the pro-life committee, herself is the mother of a child with Down syndrome. When doctors detected in a prenatal test that her child would have the condition, she declined to abort and has since become one of Poland’s leading pro-life activists.
In 2015, she received the St. Brother Albert Medal, which is given to people who fight for the rights of Poles with disabilities.
In January of this year, the Polish Parliament voted to send the pro-life initiative to parliamentary committees. The pro-life initiative was overwhelmingly supported not only by deputies from Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, but also by those from the anti-establishment Kukiz ’15 and the Polish People’s Party, a farmers’ party, both of which are in opposition to the government but tend to vote conservative on social issues.
Meanwhile, the opposition Civic Platform, which supports the status quo on abortion, and Modern, whose members mostly support liberalizing the abortion law, voted against sending “End Abortion” to the committees. While Law and Justice has a majority in the Sejm (the lower chamber of Poland’s Parliament) holding 238 out of 460 seats, the fact that part of the opposition supports the banning of eugenic abortion gives it an even greater mandate.
On March 19, the Justice and Human Rights Committee of the Sejm gave a positive opinion on the “End Abortion” committee, with 16 deputies in favor, nine against and zero abstentions. For the eugenic abortion ban to become law, it will have to receive a positive opinion from one more Sejm committee, the Social Policy and Family Committee, after which the Sejm will vote on it. Next, the bill will be submitted to the Senate for approval, after which Polish President Andrzej Duda will have 21 days to sign it into law or veto it.
It seems almost certain that the eugenic abortion ban will become law, as along with the broad support the bill enjoys in the Polish Parliament, President Duda is a devout Catholic who committed last October that he would sign into law a bill banning eugenic abortion.
And to strengthen a future ban on eugenic abortion, 100 Polish deputies, mostly from Law and Justice and Kukiz ’15, have submitted a request to the Polish Constitutional Court to pass judgment on the constitutionality of legal eugenic abortion. It’s anticipated that the court will declare it unconstitutional, given that in 1997 it ruled that the then-ruling post-communists’ attempt at legalizing abortion on demand violated Article 38 of the Polish Constitution, which states, “The Republic of Poland shall ensure the legal protection of the life of every human being.”
This week’s developments were lauded by the Polish bishops.
“Every conceived child has the right to birth and to life, regardless of innate diseases and genetic defects,” Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Pozan, the president of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, said in a March 19 statement communicating the bishops’ gratitude that the parliamentary committee had approved the eugenic abortion ban bill. “The role of the state is to provide protection for every citizen, also in its first stage of life.”
Register correspondent Filip Mazurczak writes from New York.
Register staff contributed to this report.