The Abortion Debate: a Polish symptom

On 22 October the Constitutional Court of Poland ruled that abortion on the grounds of foetal malformation was unconstitutional. I remember what happened; in 1993 and defying the Church, the State legalised abortion on four grounds: rape, incest, serious risk for the mother’s health and foetal malformation. It was a symptom of the new Poland, increasingly distanced from the politico-religious nationalism of Lech Walesa and the catholic and political restorationism of Pope John Paul II.

Foetal malformations were the grounds given in 98% of the 1,110 legal abortions performed last year, and the fact is that it has just been annulled. And it was thanks to Julia Przylebska, undeservedly appointed ad hoc by the ultra-conservative governing party PiS (Law and Justice) as president of the Constitutional Court. All with the political connivance and religious blessing of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

The president of the Episcopal Conference Stanisław Gądecki expressed his delight saying “I warmly welcomed the Court’s decision. The life of every person is of equal value to God and should be equally protected by the State.”  I don’t blame you Mr. Gadecki, but your joy upsets me deeply. I do not believe it is a good way of defending life, and I think you are taking God’s name in vain. And I will tell you why.

1. Please bear in mind that the ban will not result in fewer abortions next year than last year, approximately 150,000. The ban does not really protect life but increases suffering. It may enable the institutional Church to wash its hands of the matter, but not to turn it into the Good Samaritan or to change the reality.

2. Please be aware also that making abortion legal neither forces, nor even encourages anyone to have an abortion; it just regulates the requirements and guarantees so that whoever is going to have an abortion anyway will do so under more humane conditions.

3. And bear in mind that no one is indifferent when faced with having an abortion; they do so for a serious reason which you are not in a position to judge, and don’t forget, with great suffering and for the good of life when a pregnancy cannot or even should not be prolonged.

4. Likewise, remember that safeguarding life includes respecting the responsibility and decision of the person who conceives and gestates it, and that it is how a growing majority of the church community understands it, inspired, in accordance with the most traditional theology, by the Spirit of Life.

5. Remember that the church’s mission is not to dictate truth and goodness, least of all on behalf of those who do not feel they belong to it, and least of all in connivance with the interests of the powers that be, but that its mission is to accompany people, inspire life and heal wounds. And that is it.

6. And take a closer look at those multitudes, hundreds of men and women no less sensitive to life nor less inspired by the Spirit than the Catholics you represent, your fellow citizens who protested in the streets against the banning in the most important demonstrations since the fall of the communist regime in 1989. The ultraconservative Government described them as an “attack designed to destroy Poland” and as hostile “nihilism” towards the Church. However, it must have reconsidered the matter because it has postponed the application of the ruling of the Constitutional Court. May you, too, reconsider together with your college of bishops.

7. Please consider carefully the words spoken on the occasion of this by Thibault Deleixhe, researcher at INALCO (National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations) at the Sorbonne (Paris): “By believing that its control over women is thus increased, what the Church has done more than anything else is to squander its monopoly over the sacred. The secularization of Polish society is preparing to experience an unprecedented leap forward.” The sacred, in other words, the depth of life and of all reality. Clinging onto past rules, dogmas and paradigms, the Church misappropriates not the monopoly, which nobody has, but the moral authority it may still hold to be the light and salt of today’s society and to guide it, allowing itself to be guided, towards a new world that is so necessary.

8. And consider the figures that illustrate the profound, unstoppable, cultural metamorphosis, which runs deep, and which is taking place in your country And which has already swept across Western Europe and will sooner or later take place all over the planet: the end of the traditional religious paradigm. In 2005, 66% of young Poles between 18 and 34 were churchgoers; today they barely account for 40%. In 2005, only 6% acknowledged that they were non-believers; in 2017, 17%. One percentage point per year, so just calculate what the situation will be in 20 years’ time. And this is not due to what you, faithful to John Paul II and his Prefect of the Doctrine Joseph Ratzinger, call positivism, indifference and moral relativism, but to the spread of science by the university. It is as simple as that.

9. And then take a look at this: in 2003, young Poles between 30-34 with a university degree accounted for 17%; today they account for around 60%. Religious evolution is no coincidence and will be unstoppable. I know that the political future is hard to predict, because a crisis or a pandemic can change everything, and the very concepts of “right” and “left” can be transformed, but I am in little doubt that the days are numbered for traditional religious beliefs (“God the omnipotent Supreme Being”, literal incarnation, miracles, etc.). And, I repeat, it will be due, above all, to the spread of scientific knowledge and the change of world view that it entails.

10. Look at the signs of the time, as Jesus did and the 2nd Vatican Council invited us to do, and don’t get the diagnosis wrong: people do not leave the Church because they abandon the Spirit of Life, but because the ecclesiastical institution no longer instils either spirit or life in them. The Spirit of Life frees itself from the letter that kills. The debate on abortion in your country is a symptom of that.

Aizarna (Basque Country). 9 November 2020