Abortion and Poland: lest we regress

Got knocked up? Carry your cross and knock on heaven’s door.

Sadly, this might be the best advice for all unhappily pregnant women in Poland.

‘Stop-abortion absurdities’ united masses of Polish women in protests against restricting abortion laws and the freedom of choice: the freedom that women in other European countries may take for granted.

Why would it be right for Polish women to suffer?

We’re talking about a country where, throughout centuries, suffering and martyrdom were often considered virtuous or worth pursuing. Here’s how it all adds up.

For starters, a few words of explanation

Writing about Polish history, mentality or attitudes, it’s not my intention to say that we’re made of the same clay. I wouldn’t like to claim we all have the same weaknesses or resort to the same solutions.

Some sentences may sound like generalisations. It’s for your convenience as a reader and also to make the point: why we may think and act in a slightly different way than other countries in the EU.

Individual mindsets and stories are … a whole new story.

Additionally, this article is not a statement, but an interpretation based on my personal observations and years of living in Poland and abroad. I don’t want to force anyone, especially Polish readers, to jump on board and agree with my conclusions.

But I’d appreciate it if you took a moment to consider: what if there is something to it? And of course:

A big cheer to Polish women who showed their unusual strength and unity, taking to streets and fighting for their rights and democracy!

And this is something wonderful about Polish people: facing adversity, they somehow know how to join forces and overcome it.

Unhappily pregnant women

In very general terms, unhappily pregnant women range from those whose pregnancies result from violence, put a woman’s or a child’s life/health in danger to those ‘diagnosed’ with pregnancy and not happy to be expecting a child.

Depending on individual circumstances, it may be better when a child is never born. It may be painful, it may be heart-wrenching, but it’s the lesser of all evils.

Still, some governments question that. This is what’s happened in Poland. Religion may be one thing, but if you consider that it’s a country of historical sufferers, it adds up.

Many of those unhappily pregnant women would have great opportunities to suffer. Enough suffering for future mothers, their children, families, including fathers and grandfathers, for the national health system, for teachers, for church communities.

Which brings us to history.

Historical mentality: see things through the Polish eyes

A little bit of Polish history can explain quite a lot.

Let’s move back to the 18th century. This is when Poland disappeared from the map of Europe: it ceased to be a country for over one hundred years. It got partitioned between Russia, Prussia and Austria. Deprived of their state, Polish citizens were forced to operate against their hostile occupants and aggressors.

Both the Polish language and cultural heritage were at stake. Poles would organise national uprisings to fight for national independence and autonomy. Many lost their lives.

A culture of suffering and martyrdom was enhanced.

In the 20th century the two world wars and Holocaust affected the country immensely. Hitler’s attack, massive destruction and homicide implied again: so it seems we may have to suffer to survive.

The post-war reality wasn’t easy either. Poland got under the communist regime. Resources and goods were limited, the state controlled everything and the privileges of market economy were not available.

Again, people had to learn how to survive in those unresourceful conditions. They had to use their wits to be smarter than the hostile state and sometimes resort to bribery to have better lives.

When communism was eventually overturned in the late 80s, Poles wouldn’t start from scratch. They were no Pilgrims who could tap into the rich and virgin continent of America to shape their unscathed political reality.

Poland did become a democratic state, but there was a lot of historical memory and negative politics behind.

Corruption, bribery and abortion

So a new democratic Poland was being born. Big economic reforms and the privatisation of state-owned businesses were in motion. It was necessary to keep excessive bureaucracy so that people wouldn’t abuse their newly acquired freedoms in illegal ways.

And to think it wouldn’t happen is probably irrational.

After all, this is what Poles got used to: plotting against the hostile state that deprived its people of freedoms and human rights. A way of undermining the discredited political authority was corruption.

Corruption has an effect on parliamentary outcomes, court sentences, business decisions and provision of medical services. It often goes hand in hand with social injustice and unfair income distribution.

When there’s social inequality and unfairness, citizens may want to resort to bribery and illegal activities. Some of them simply don’t want to lag behind the smarter ones who paid a bit extra to improve the quality of their lives or to have their human rights respected.

NOW: to think that tightening abortion law in Poland won’t increase illegal abortion is probably irrational.

It is estimated that there are already more illegal abortions (10,000–150,000) than legal ones (1,000–2,000) in Poland.

Limiting Polish women’s rights further could mean bribery, abortion procedures carried out by unqualified people or increased emigration. I hope this is not what the current government is hoping for.

Trust issues in Poland

I’ve already mentioned excessive bureaucracy. It can happen that you have to sign documents and personal statements a dozen times before the Polish officials can believe you’re telling the truth.

Sign it here, sign it there, stamp it too; if you lie, we’ll put you in prison.

This is basically what many formal documents issued in Poland try to communicate. For most people unnecessary, for others intimidating or simply annoying.

Having lived for many years in the UK, I got used to people trusting in what I did and said. I didn’t have to provide, sign and stamp tens of written declarations. My integrity, and me, were respected enough to be trusted.

Before I started my first job back in Poland, I had to register with an unemployment office. I had to put many signatures on numerous forms with intimidating messages: If you provide incorrect information according to Law 6902435727 (random number), you will do three years in jail.

I felt scared. Did I really want to fill anything out?

Far from it. What if I made a mistake? Would I be reunited with my lovely country by a pair of handcuffs?

Deterrents against crime to discourage people from lies and misdemeanors were everywhere: fill this out, sign it, stamp it, turn the page, sign it, stamp it, repeat. I felt that my country had some serious trust issues.

Now it turns out it doesn’t necessarily want to trust women to make informed decisions about their bodies and their future.

Abortion in the country of martyrdom

So over the course of history, Poland has been a country of sufferers and martyrs. We’ve had to suffer, we’ve had to fight, we’ve had to die, we’ve had to wait for Messiah to come upon us and save our assaulted country.

I’m not saying it was all in vain (which is not the topic of this article, anyway). I’m all in for respecting the past, especially if I wasn’t there.

Fast-forward to today, though:

I feel that mindsets that were somehow justified three hundred years ago, or even three decades ago, may have to be questioned and revised. They’re a bit like dinosaurs that survived the Jurassic era.

Still too often Poles like to be seen as sufferers and martyrs. This belief has an effect on many areas of life.

It may be about lower salaries that make people suffer when it’s time to pay their bills.

It may be about excessive bureaucracy that makes clerks suffer working with redundant paperwork.

It may be about corporate employees wanting to prove their worth by sitting at their desks till midnight to show they’re ready to suffer at all times.

It may be about women enjoying more equality, yet suffering from the ‘Superwoman Syndrome’. Choosing to make professional careers, many Polish women are still expected to find enough time to raise children, clean the house, cook dinner and look gorgeous for their husbands.

It may also be about female bodies and health. It may be about someone’s whole life and the lives of all those who may be born unwanted, deformed or terminally ill.

It may be about what this nation has come to know throughout centuries: suffering. It may be about women, but also men who will need to support them and struggle in a country of sufferers.

You got knocked up? Carry your cross and knock on heaven’s door

Unhappily pregnant in Poland? Your child may be expected to be born handicapped and/or be destined to barely survive. Your life and health may be in danger. You may be 100% sure you don’t want to become a mother.

You may feel that with you being forced to give that birth anyway, there will be a lot resentment. At every level of your being, you may feel that misery is on the cards. For everyone.

However, making the most reasonable decision in your situation, choosing the lesser of all evils, may be seen as immoral and too selfish. It doesn’t matter how heart-broken and physically weak you may feel.

Can there really be no resentment, feelings of guilt and thoughts that none of us wanted all this?

I’ve heard some people deny that giving birth to truly unwanted or severely disabled children can raise anger and resentment. However, I feel that denying this possibility, denies our humanity, vulnerability and ability to be honest with ourselves and others.

It’s about responsibility and consciousness

Many of us were unwanted before we were even conceived. Eventually we may have been welcomed to this world. We were taken care of by our parents who provided us with shelter, education and play.

But maybe we feel we didn’t get the love we needed. Or we can’t really say that the parenting style of our parents is the one we’d like to follow ourselves.

This is not to say that more pregnancies should be aborted or future mothers can change their minds at any pregnancy stage. The choice to end pregnancy should be a conscious and responsible decision: it’s not about getting rid of a child … just because.

This is to imply that even in the cases when parents do their best, they may still be barely prepared for parenthood, not having their own adult lives together and not having been taught how to act as responsible and conscious adults.

Perhaps abortion and motherhood are choices that a responsible and conscious woman should make herself. It goes beyond clueless political or religious systems.

The system can, on the other hand, help her evolve and mature as a responsible human being. The system can help her prepare for conscious parenthood. The system can also focus more on providing enough state support for children born with disabilities.

On a final note

On 23 March 2018 thousands of Polish people protested against restricting the already restricted access to abortion. The new law would ban terminations in cases of foetal abnormality, including Down Syndrome.

It feels scary, but there’s a ray of hope, too.

I’ve often been sceptical of public demonstrations and I’m not really into protesting. But this year I’ve realised that this is a great achievement for Poland and for a long time I’ve failed to see it as such.

Again, people from many other countries may take it for granted.

However, the fact that we can protest in public in Poland is actually something huge if you consider the painful past and the challenges of a young democracy.

Even though the current political situation in Poland makes me and a lot of Poles anxious, there is actually some hope. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Finally, if I was to write a brief prayer, based on one of the conversations I had with a Polish friend of mine, a mother-to-be, it’d be something like this:

Dear Government / State,

Before you question my ability to make a choice whether I can make it as a mother, first create a society where I can take care of myself and understand my needs to make informed decisions.

Help me become a responsible adult. I don’t want to be brainwashed or taught useless facts. Instead, educate me properly about my body and my emotional needs. Make it as important as studying maths and history.

Provide me with affordable mentors and psychologists who can guide me in this process. Don’t create a society where getting the help I truly need is either inaccessible or costs too much.

In the meantime I don’t want my womb to be part of a political game. I don’t want my health and life to be put in danger because of those who secretly, or not so secretly, know it can get them millions of idea- or religion-driven voters.

I don’t want to feel I can only progress, regressing to the Dark Ages.


Non-fiction writer & content manager. Author of “The power of displacement”. Keen reality and people observer. Loves writing catchy, rhyming poems.