Magazine article The Christian Century

Trending Conservative, Poland Considers Tighter Abortion Laws

Magazine article The Christian Century

Trending Conservative, Poland Considers Tighter Abortion Laws

Article excerpt

At first glance, Poland's heated debate over a proposed total ban on abortion may seem familiar. A religiously driven proposal to end the practice draws abortion rights activists to the streets to protest.

But the emergence of the fight, which is relatively new for Poles, obscures complicated and evolving views. Despite church attendance being down, as it is in much of the West, Poles have become more conservative on the issue over the last generation.

Poland already has some of the strictest rules on abortion in Europe. It is allowed only if a fetus has certain medical or genetic conditions, a mother's life is threatened, or in cases of rape or incest. And while the majority of Poles support the laws as they stand, often overwhelmingly, that support has been eaten away over the past two decades.

A recent poll by the Polish firm CBOS revealed that for all three cases in which abortion is allowed, support has dropped since 1992, falling to 53 percent from 71 percent two decades ago in cases in which the fetus has a medical or genetic condition. Support for abortion if a mother's life is threatened went from 88 to 80 percent, and in cases of rape or incest, from 80 to 73 percent.

Michal Luczewski, a sociologist at the University of Warsaw and the Centre for Thought of John Paul II, said the attitudes reflect the ways laws shape culture, in this case a stricter law on abortion after the fall of communism.

"Polish law says that abortion is illegal and a crime," he said.

During Poland's communist era, up to half a million abortions were performed every year. That compares to 1,812 in 2014, according to the latest official figures, although activists say tens of thousands are obtained on the black market or in neighboring countries. While abortion was legal under a 1956 law only when a woman's life was in danger, because of rape, or because of difficult life conditions, in practice doctors performed abortion on demand.

After communism fell--with the Roman Catholic Church playing a leading role in Poland's transition to democracy--a political fight for more restrictions emerged. In 1993 a bill was voted in--the one still standing--denying women the opportunity to have an abortion for social or economic reasons.

Some attribute the drop in acceptance to the success of the pro-life camp, borrowing tactics from those in the United States that rely on graphic imagery. …

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