Catholic church criticises new Polish government’s abortion and contraception plans

The Catholic church has criticised proposals by Poland’s new ruling coalition to liberalise the abortion law and restore prescription-free access to the morning-after pill.

The spokesman for the Polish Episcopal Conference (KEP), the central organ of the Catholic church in Poland, says that such policies will “bring death” while the KEP’s president warns that “one must never comply with…laws that allow the direct murder of innocent human beings”.

W duchu odpowiedzialności za Kościół w Polsce i za dobro naszej wspólnej Ojczyzny, wzywam wszystkich ludzi dobrej woli, by jednoznacznie opowiedzieli się za życiem – napisał przewodniczący #KEP @Abp_Gadecki w Oświadczeniu w kwestii aborcji.

— EpiskopatNews (@EpiskopatNews) January 26, 2024

This week, Civic Coalition (KO), the largest group in Poland’s ruling coalition, submitted a bill to parliament to introduce abortion on demand. That would not only end the current near-total ban on abortion – which was introduced in 2021 with the support of the church – but establish a more liberal law than existed before.

Meanwhile, the government as a whole approved legislation to allow over-the-counter access to emergency contraception. That would reverse a 2017 decision by the former conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government to make Poland one of only two EU countries in which a prescription is required.

In response, KEP spokesman Leszek Gęsiak yesterday declared that the two proposed bills are “devastating”.

Projekty ustaw dotyczące aborcji do 12. tygodnia i pigułki „dzień po” są porażające; pod pozorem eufemistycznie brzmiących haseł niosą ze sobą śmierć, ponieważ życie człowieka zaczyna się w chwili poczęcia – rzecznik KEP ks. Leszek Gęsiak SJ.

— (@misyjne_pl) January 25, 2024

“The bills regarding abortion and prescription-free access to the morning-after pill…bring death under the guise of euphemistic-sounding slogans, because human life begins at conception,” said Gęsiak.

“There will never be any support from the church for such actions,” he continued. “Abortion is a serious offence against human life…[and] human life is not a private matter. A person does not have the right to decide about the life or death of another person. Taking someone’s life can never be called progress or modernity.”

When asked about Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s remarks this week that the morning-after pill only prevents fertilisation and does not cause abortion, Gęsiak rejected that claim. He referred to the opinion of priest and bioethicist Piotr Kieniewicz, who says that the pill can also cause early-stage abortion.

The government has approved a bill to restore prescription-free access to the morning-after pill.

That would reverse the decision made by the former conservative government to make Poland one of only two EU countries in which a prescription is required

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 25, 2024

Today, the KEP’s president, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, released a further statement criticising the proposals to expand access to abortion.

Quoting from Pope John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae, Gądecki wrote that “laws authorising the direct murder of innocent human beings through abortion…are radically contrary…to the common good and are therefore completely devoid of real legal force…[and] cease to be real, morally binding law”.

“One must never comply with” such laws even if they are introduced democratically, continued the archbishop’s statement, again quoting the former pope.

“When a parliamentary or social majority decides that the killing of unborn human life is legally permissible, even under certain conditions, is it not thereby making a ‘tyrannical’ decision towards the weakest and most defenceless human being?”

PM @donaldtusk’s political group has submitted a bill to introduce abortion on demand

That would undo the near-total ban introduced under PiS and create a more liberal law than before

But Tusk admits he may not have enough support from coalition partners

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 25, 2024

Opinion polls show that a large majority of the Polish public want to end the current near-total ban on abortion.

However, there are divisions – both in public opinion and within the ruling coalition – about whether that should involve returning to the previous abortion law, which was already one of the strictest in Europe, or going further and introducing abortion on demand.

The Catholic church in Poland has faced criticism in recent years for its involvement in political issues, in particular abortion, and for its close relationship with the former PiS government.

A growing number of Poles are turning away from the Catholic church, but not from religious belief itself.

This creates challenges for the church, but also for Polish identity, which has historically been linked to Catholicism, writes Katarzyna Skiba

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) April 18, 2023

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Main image credit:  Jakub Wlodek / Agencja

Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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