Good news in the fight against the culture of death is all too rare. But today, we have extremely good news from the homeland of the “pope of life,” St. John Paul II. Just days ago, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal removed one of the few remaining exceptions to that country’s abortion law, ruling that abortions in cases of “fetal defect or incurable illness” constitute a violation of Poland’s Constitution.
The tribunal’s president, Julia Przylebska, wrote in the decision that abortion in such cases amounts to “eugenic practices.” Since the Polish Constitution guarantees the right to life, she wrote, such abortions are “a directly forbidden form of discrimination.”
Fittingly, this decision was handed down on October 22 – the feast day of St. John Paul II. I can only imagine his joy at seeing his homeland putting into practice the pro-life principles he championed in so many documents and speeches.
In a statement Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, welcomed the court’s decision. “I have said it many times and I have never concealed it, that abortion for so-called eugenic reasons should not be allowed in Poland. I believed and believe that every child has a right to life.”
Though very grateful for the court’s decision, sadly, the violence of abortion remains legal in Poland in cases of rape and incest. Of the 1100 legal abortions performed in Poland last year, twenty-six (26) abortions were done in cases of rape or incest. The remaining 1074 abortions were in cases of fetal abnormality, all performed on preborn children deemed “unfit” to live by doctors and their parents.
An Encouraging Victory
There are several key lessons we can learn from the Polish court’s decision.
In the first place, it exposes the deep deceptiveness of the pro-abortion strategy of focusing exclusively on the hard cases of rape and incest when pushing for abortion legalization. In reality, abortions in these cases – every one of them a tragedy and crime against innocent human life – make up a vanishingly small minority of abortions in most countries where abortion is legal. By focusing on these cases, pro-abortion activists scandalously exploit the suffering of women victims to smuggle in abortion-on-demand.
The Polish situation is also instructive for the way it exposes the basic humanity and decency of the pro-life position, in contrast to the bigotry and extremism of the pro-abortion side. In response to the court’s ruling, thousands of Polish people have taken to the streets to protest. In some cases they entered Catholic churches, even disrupting Holy Mass. It is eye-opening to see furious crowds of young Polish people demanding the right to abort children simply because they are disabled. This is the so-called “compassion” of the pro-abortion worldview. The court was quite right to emphasize the way eugenic abortions are a form of “discrimination” against the disabled.
Finally, this Polish victory points to the great importance of having pro-life judges who truly grasp the basic truth of pro-life arguments. Pro-abortion Poles are criticizing this court decision for being undemocratic. The truth, however, is that consistently applying the Polish Constitution’s provisions protecting the right to life to all human beings is the bare minimum for democracy to exist. How can a country claim to be democratic, when living citizens of that country are explicitly excluded from the most basic right of all?
This decision is logically, legally, and scientifically consistent, in a way that allowing eugenic abortions was not. Art. 38 of Poland’s Constitution states that the Republic of Poland provides, “Right to legal protection of the life of every human being.” There is no way to read this provision in a way that does not include preborn children with disabilities. Disabled preborn children are as human as healthy children. By extending protections to disabled preborn children, the Polish court has removed a serious contradiction within Polish law.
It is ironic to hear abortion activists now complaining about judicial activism. In country after country around the world, the pro-abortion strategy has been deliberate to bypass democratic legislative procedures, and instead to concoct abortion-related cases to go before cherry-picked pro-abortion judges. In country after country, the people have had no say in abortion law. Instead, abortion-on-demand has been created by fiat by the decision of a small number of liberal justices. This is what happened in the United States, with the result that tens of millions of preborn children having been aborted, that is murdered.
The End of Roe v. Wade in Sight?
The final, and most encouraging lesson of Poland’s movement towards protecting every life, pre-born and born, is that it is possible for the momentum to turn against the culture of death. Indeed, as HLI’s representatives in Poland – Lech and Ewa Kowalewski – recently emphasized, the impact of Poland’s pro-life victory extends far beyond Poland. “Success in Poland is of great importance for the cause of defending life in the international dimension,” they said.
Indeed, pro-life activists in the U.S. should take heart. Only days ago, the U.S. Senate approved the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Though she refused to openly state her view of Roe v. Wade during the hearings, there are encouraging signs that she is cut from a different cloth than those GOP-appointed justices who have repeatedly disappointed us in the past. Barrett’s prior pro-life statements and actions suggest that she is a woman of conviction. And the counter-cultural way that she lives her private life suggests that she has the strength of character to do the right thing under pressure.
One of my favorite stories about Justice Barrett is what happened when she and her husband were trying to adopt a second child from Haiti in 2009. Shortly after being told that the adoption could go through – after initially being told that it wouldn’t – the couple learned they were pregnant. The Barretts already had four children at home. Welcoming two more in quick succession must have seemed overwhelming. In a speech at Notre Dame last year, she recounted her reaction: “I walked up to the cemetery on campus and I just sat down on one of the benches and I just thought ‘okay, well if life’s really hard, at least it’s short,’” Barrett joked. “But I thought, ‘what, what greater thing can you do than raise children? That’s where you have your greatest impact on the world.’”
In theory, we may now be within striking distance of seeing one of the most egregious instances of judicial overreach – Roe v. Wade – overturned. Pro-lifers have been fighting for this day for decades. We must pray that our supposedly conservative Supreme Court justices, who now make up a majority of the court, will have the courage to do what previous Republican nominees have not done.
Your Work on the Ground Matters
However, it is also important to remember that the Polish court’s decision did not happen in a vacuum. Committed pro-life activists in that country – including representatives of HLI Polska – have been spearheading grassroots campaigns demanding more compassionate laws in the country. Earlier this year, pro-lifers gathered a staggering 830,000 signatures on a petition, demanding that the government end eugenic abortions.
Knowing that so many Polish people were standing with them must have given the justices at the Constitutional Tribunal the courage to do the right thing. Here in the United States, we too must show our pro-life justices – or those who are undecided – that if they stand for life, we will have their backs. We must resist the temptation to let up our efforts even the slightest. Through prayer, fasting, and concerted ongoing pro-life action, we too may one day soon be in the same position as Poland’s pro-life activists – seeing our hard work paying dividends, and countless lives being saved from the great horror of legal abortion.