As the debate on abortion rages on in Ireland, we consider the recent attempt to introduce a law to protect life from conception to natural death in Poland, and the rejection of that attempt by the Polish parliament, to be instructive.
We are surprised to learn of reports appearing in the Western media about the alleged “defeat of the Law & Justice Party and the Polish bishops” in the battle for a complete ban on abortion in Poland.
This calls for categorical rectification, because the truth is completely different! The proposed bill, signed by almost half a million Poles, was rejected by votes of the Law & Justice Party.
One member of the Law & Justice Party, Krystyna Pawłowicz, claimed that the bishops gave their permission to reject the bill (http://www.pch24.pl/krystyna-pawlowicz–to-episkopat-upowaznil-pis-do-odrzucenia-projektu-ustawy-zakazujacej-aborcji,46465,i.html).
In light of the information appearing in some Western media outlets, we want to set the record straight. The facts are as follows:
The Polish parliament proceeded with the civic bill calling for total protection of life from conception to natural death. This was not a bill authored by the Law & Justice Party, but a result of popular initiative, prepared by Catholics representing NGO’s in the Stop Abortion Committee.
The bill was accepted in the first stage of the legislative process by the Law & Justice Party MPs. The ruling party had promised to debate every popular initiative, thus differentiating themselves from their predecessors. Initially Law & Justice MPs spoke very warmly about the initiative, declaring themselves to be entirely pro-life on account of their Catholic faith.
While this was going on demonstrations erupted throughout Poland, organised by people and movements that have always been hostile towards the Law & Justice Party and towards the Church. The politicians of the ruling party became fearful of the possible outcome of these protests. This was in spite of numerous protests against the party during the course of the preceding year, with respect to which the government maintained a calm attitude.
The pressure caused by these protests led the party to convene, in a hasty and embarrassing manner, an illegal session of a parliamentary committee and to recommend to the Sejm (lower chamber of the Polish parliament) the rejection of the popular initiative.
That same day – and this must be especially emphasised – the Polish Episcopal Conference issued a surprising document, in which it opposed the pro-life law, because it mandated the punishing of all those persons responsible for conducting an abortion, including women who allow their unborn children to be killed by abortion (the proposed law provided the option for a judge to refrain from penalising the woman in various circumstances).
The Law & Justice Party rejected the popular initiative by a huge majority in the second stage of the legislative process (in the Polish Sejm the legislative process is divided into three stages), not allowing for a substantive discussion nor any questions.
The authors of the bill (i.e. the Catholics in the aforementioned NGOs) were informed, with only a few hours notice, that a committee meeting and a final vote would be held, even though the rules of the Sejm require three days advance notice to be given. As a result of this mini coup, some representatives of the bill’s authors did not make it on time to the Sejm.
Law & Justice Party politicians, from one day to the next, decided that they were no longer comfortable with the notion of punishing women as stipulated in the popular initiative bill.
Despite having the means to simply expunge this section from the bill, and to continue working on it without the penal consequences for mothers who aborted their unborn children, they refrained from doing this.
This was manifestly in accordance with the position of the Polish bishops published on the same day in which the Sejm hastily decided to reject the bill in its entirety. Out of 460 MP’s, barely 50 voted for the bill.
Law & Justice Party MPs, who unexpectedly changed their position, made references to the public position of the bishops. Krystyna Pawłowicz wrote openly on her Facebook page that “it was the Episcopate that authorised us to do this.”
These facts irrefutably show that talk of the rejection of the pro-life initiative being a “setback for the Law & Justice Party and the bishops” makes no sense. The politicians of the ruling party and members of government are happy with the outcome.
The same day as the bill was rejected the bishops issued a communiqué in which they stated that “the full protection of life from conception to natural death” should continue to be the aim of the MPs. This communiqué was issued just a few hours after the vote in the Sejm and just one day after their first statement, which the parliamentarians took at face value. Thus they rejected the popular initiative for the complete defence of the unborn.
Joanna Banasiuk of Ordo Iuris (an association of Catholic lawyers), in a speech (http://www.ordoiuris.pl/ochrona-zycia/pelna-tresc-przemowienia-dr-joanny-banasiuk-w-sejmie) to the Sejm, questioned the manner in which the pro-life initiative was rejected. She refuted many of the misconceptions about the bill that had been spread in the media, including those about the provision to punish mothers who aborted their unborn children. This provision was limited and, in any case, could easily have been removed from the bill rather than being used, as it was, as an excuse for rejection of the bill.
Mrs Banasiuk closed her address to the Sejm with the assertion that “a nation that kills its own children becomes a nation without a future.”
This is true – as much so in Ireland as it is in Poland. Let us remember it when it comes to a referendum on the 8th Amendment.