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Poland sees 90% drop in legal abortions after landmark court ruling

Baby feet. Olga/ Олька via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).

The number of legal abortions in Poland fell by 90% in the year after a landmark court ruling, according to newly published figures.

The Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita reported on July 30 that 107 legal abortions were recorded in the country of more than 40 million people in 2021, compared to 1,076 the year before.

The statistic appears to confirm predictions that a decision by Poland’s constitutional court in October 2020 would lead to a sharp drop in legal abortions, which have averaged around 1,000 per year.

Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal declared on Oct. 22, 2020, that a 1993 law permitting abortion for severe and irreversible disability or a life-threatening incurable disease was unconstitutional.

The judgment sparked mass protests in cities across Poland, directed principally at the country’s ruling Law and Justice party, but also against the Catholic Church, which welcomed the ruling. Protesters disrupted Masses, daubed graffiti on Church property, chanted slogans at priests, and vandalized statues of the Polish pope St. John Paul II.

After the ruling went into effect on Jan. 27, 2021, abortion remained legal in Poland for two reasons: when there is a risk to the mother’s life and in cases of rape or incest.

Rzeczpospolita noted that before the constitutional court’s ruling, the majority of abortions in Poland were performed due to fetal abnormalities - described as “eugenic abortions” by pro-lifers. The newspaper said that 75 abortions took place for this reason in 2021, most likely before the judgment went into force in late January.

“If it were valid for the whole year, there would be only 32 abortions in Poland, over 30 times less than in previous years,” the daily paper suggested.

Urszula Dudziak, an associate professor in the Department of Family Sciences at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, told The Pillar that while the drop in abortions was expected, the figure could rise again if pro-lifers rested on “their proverbial laurels.”

“There is still much work to be done,” she said. “According to the teachings of John Paul II, we need to educate for love and responsibility. There is a need to know what true love is, how it develops, what are the stages of the development of love and the ways of expressing it. A need for moral education. A need for sexual and procreative responsibility. A need for the ability to recognize fertility and adapt sexual behavior to procreative intentions. A need for knowledge of what preconception and prenatal care is and the value of using it in life. A need for knowledge of Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae and the actual living of its contents in marriages and families.”

Prof. Dudziak said she believed that the figures published by Rzeczpospolita - which referred to abortions performed by medical personnel in Poland and recorded at the country’s healthcare facilities - were accurate.

She referred to research that she conducted when Poland was ruled by a communist regime that took a permissive stance on abortion.

“I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the data on so-called surgical abortions recorded by Polish hospitals,” she said. “This is further confirmed by the fact that when I undertook a study in the early 1980s among women terminating pregnancies in hospitals in the city of Lublin, the vast majority of abortions (99.3%) were performed for social reasons (bad material conditions were enough).”

“Less than 1% of decisions were motivated by medical and legal reasons. Abandoning the killing of children in the prenatal period for so-called ‘social reasons’ has already reduced the number of these ‘procedures.’”

She went on: “The second argument is a nationwide study conducted at the time by sociologist Prof. Franciszek Adamski, which shows how much the law shapes public attitudes. The law, in effect since April 27, 1956, permitted the termination of pregnancy up to 12 weeks for medical, legal, and social reasons. The researchers asked, among other questions, when is an unborn child a human being? Most women (more than one in three) wrote ‘from the 12th week of pregnancy.’ The professor diagnosed that this clearly shows the corrupting, rather than educative, influence of the legislation.”

Prof. Dudziak said that further evidence that the law shaped public opinion emerged after Poland’s abortion regulations changed following the collapse of communism in 1989.

“My surveys of high school students in 1992 and 2000 showed that after the law was amended in 1993, there was a positive change in attitudes to one that was more protective of the life of the unborn child,” she said.

“At that time, when the law permitting the termination of pregnancy for social, legal, and societal reasons was in effect, 35% of the youth were against abortion, and after the favorable change in the law, by eliminating the permissibility of killing a child in the womb for broad social reasons, the group of young people who were against abortion increased to 54%.”

Prof. Dudziak said that the 2020 ruling that abortions “on eugenic grounds” were incompatible with Poland’s constitution could “sensitize society to the truth that illness does not nullify the fact of humanity.”

“It is an educational factor, making it possible to save the lives of children, for example, with Down syndrome, who, even if they do not score high on a test measuring IQ, can teach many adults how to show warmth, cordiality, and kindness to another human being,” she said.

“This is an aid in forming mature attitudes toward illness and death, to protect parents and doctors from killing their own conscience, and to call on them to accompany with love and serve with knowledge.”

Prof. Dudziak told The Pillar that Polish pro-lifers appreciated the work of their American counterparts, which resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on June 24.

“The Catholic Church is a universal Church, so it is understandable and valuable to see the witness and cooperation of communities of different countries in protecting the unborn child. We value the achievements of the United States and the possibility of mutual support for a just cause,” she commented.

“It should be added that not only Catholics, but all Christians are obliged by the Fifth Commandment of the Decalogue, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ and even more, because of the commandment of love, that is, not only do not kill a person, but love. This is a great and important task for disciples of Christ and all people of goodwill.”

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