Reproductive rights under attack in Poland

Citing the country's dwindling population, a far-right alliance is restricting contraception and sex ed, and pushing for a total abortion ban.

By Page Rockwell
Published December 15, 2006 4:30PM (EST)

This sounds uncomfortably familiar: Members of a far-right coalition in Poland are pushing for a total abortion ban in the country, and they're going to keep chipping away at women's reproductive rights until they reach their goal. On Thursday, Reuters and the Kaiser Foundation reported on a proposed modification to the country's Constitution, which would enshrine a right to "life protection from the moment of conception" (no word on whether the alliance would define conception as occurring upon fertilization or implantation, but my pessimistic guess is the former).

Abortion is already illegal in Poland. However, there are exceptions for cases in which the mother's health is threatened, the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or the fetus suffers from genetic defects. (Approval for exceptions can be hard to obtain, though; Reuters describes the infuriating predicament faced by Alicja Tysiac, who was warned that having a third child could exacerbate her eye disease but was unable to get abortion approval in time, and, having had the child, is now almost totally blind.) A recent poll found that three out of four Poles support a woman's right to abortion under some or all circumstances. But the far-right alliance, which includes the country's ultraconservative, nationalist League of Polish Families party, is simply taking another tack: It recently persuaded the Parliament to restrict access to contraceptives and put discouraging health warnings on the sides of packages of birth control pills, under the rationale that birth control is immoral and is responsible for the country's dwindling population and, in the words of one lawmaker, because "the fact that contraception is damaging to health is as obvious as the fact that alcohol and cigarettes are dangerous." Oh, and the alliance is also angling to remove contraception from school curricula; going forward, the government will instruct schools to focus on natural family planning.

Somewhat encouragingly, Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski has expressed reluctance to alter the country's abortion laws. But his reason, while pragmatic, seems a little dodgy: Abortion laws, he says, are "a compromise that is better not discussed." Which sort of sounds like the political equivalent of putting your hands over your ears and yelling "la la la la" to keep from hearing unwelcome information. Not exactly masterful statesmanship, but if it helps block right-wing inroads, I'll take it.

Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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