WARSAW, Mar 11 (RFE/RL) - In Poland, the
Roman Catholic tradition, the Communist past, and the modern needs of
women have breathed new life into an old debate: How easy should it
be to get an abortion?
Under Polish communism, abortion on demand was so routine that, some
political leaders say, it amounted to just another method of
The post-communist government of Poland tightened the law to forbid
abortion under most circumstances, except when the life of the mother
was threatened. Former President Lech Walesa, a Roman Catholic
believer, resolutely vetoed an earlier bid by the Sejm (parliament)
to relax the abortion law.
Now, the Sejm has taken up the matter again. It was debated March 1,
and is due to be revisited Wednesday (Mar 13). And Walesa's
successor, Aleksander Kwasniewski, says he supports liberalizing the
It's not a mere question of whether Polish women should have free
or restricted access to abortion. Many advocates say they favor
revising the law because the current regulations have become a joke.
Various newspapers and broadcasters have conducted phone surveys and
recorded doctors' voices openly offering abortions for the equivalent
in Zloty of between 160-and-480 U.S. dollars each. Leading newspapers
offer full pages of classified ads offering abortions in thinly
veiled euphemisms. Other advertisements offer "tourist trips" to
Lvov in Ukraine or to the Czech Republic "to see a gynecologist
So abortion remains available to Polish women. Only the price has
gone up, which means that the restrictions apply mainly to the poor.
The police report that four-to-five newborns a week, on average, are
found in garbage disposals and refuse dumps. Others are abandoned on
the doorsteps of hospitals.
Different pressures are working on Poland's new President
Kwasniewski. His "Democratic Left Alliance" bears the responsibility
of delivering on presidential campaign promises that the abortion law
would be amended. On the other hand, it is widely understood in
Warsaw that Kwasniewski would like to visit the Vatican soon. His too
enthusiastic support of a liberalized abortion law could create
difficulties in arranging a meeting with the Pope. If, however, the
Sejm amended the law, Kwasniewsky could sign it and lay the
responsibility on the parliament instead of on himself.
The bill before the Sejm is entitled: "Bill on family planning,
protection of the human fetus and the conditions which would allow
for an abortion, and the necessary changes in the penal code." It
would permit abortions of fetuses in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
It would also offer inducements to buy contraceptive devices.
In the March 1 parliamentary debate, a variety of opinions emerged.
The "Democratic Left Alliance" and the "Labor Union" party supported
the changes. The "Peasant Party," the "Confederation for Independent
Poland," and the former presidential party, the "BBWR," opposed them.
Other parliamentary groupings are split.
Sejm Deputy Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka, a member of the "Labor Union"
party and one of the liberalization bill's authors, called the
existing law unjust, because of its disproportionate impact on the
poor. She contended that the bill was, as she put it, "criminogenic,"
because it encouraged what she called "abortion tourism" and a
Jaruga-Nowacka declared that her party's support for the legal
change did not make them - in her words - "enemies of conceived
life." Supporters simply were recognizing "social reality," she said.
"Peasant" Party Deputy Jan Komornicki worried that the change would
permit an abortion in virtually every case. He called for further
debate. A deputy for the "Confederation for Independent Poland,"
Krzysztof Krol, urged that the law, if passed, be delayed in taking
effect, because of early parliamentary elections. Deputy Stanislaw
Kowolik of the "BBWR" protested that even debating what he called
"the human right to life (is) contrary to common sense and logic."
Deputy Andrzej Wielowieyski of the "Freedom Union" party urged that
any changes in the law seek to respect both the life of the child
and the decision of the mother.