The Supreme Court has ruled abortion unconstitutional in cases of fetal defects. That’s a victory for the government — and a new way of controlling women’s bodies, the Polish journalist Magdalena Gwozdz-Pallokat writes.
Our children are still small, and our memories of the pregnancies are still very much with us. We were fortunate that we did not have to face such an incredibly difficult dilemma. Yet we were still plagued by doubts and fears about whether everything was going to turn out OK. I hardly dare to imagine how it must feel for a woman — for parents — to receive the news that the baby they are carrying has little chance of surviving childbirth, or is likely to be born with severe impairments. To force a woman to carry to term, even when she herself does not feel up to the task, must feel like torture. It is torture!
I remember the worries that accompanied me on the way to the doctor’s office before every prenatal test. I remember how grateful I was to medical science for giving me the opportunity to find out whether there were any complications. And, yes, I was grateful that in the end, if the worst came to the worst, I could decide how things should proceed. Regardless of which decision you make in that situation, it must be incredibly difficult.
Who should have the right to decide?
I admire anyone who decides to give birth to a very sick child and is prepared to accompany them every little step of the way. I know families who have been brave enough to do that. I struggle for words to express just how much respect that I have for those families. Yes, this step does require courage. But it is unbelievably hurtful to insinuate that someone who decides differently is cowardly or anti-life. That decision also requires courage, and it, too, has lifelong consequences.
If a woman herself cannot decide, then who does have the right? I cannot comprehend how anyone would have the audacity to make such a judgment for someone else. Yet Poland’s Law and Justice Party (PiS) has reshaped the Supreme Court to serve its own purposes, and it was only to be expected that the judges would make a ruling that would please the bishops and large sections of the governing coalition.
Women are the ones who have been condemned — condemned to the dreadful countdown to the death of the children they are carrying. Many of those that do survive will only survive for a few days or weeks, but that will not interest anyone. The parent and the children born with impairments are the ones who will suffer. Those people who have loudly proclaimed the need for the “full protection of life” will not share this pain.
Not PiS’ business
The state will not be there either when it comes to supporting families with seriously sick children. And I am not talking about material support here, but about structures and opportunities for individuals who require support from the very beginning. In Poland, such structures and opportunities are in short supply. There is a lack of rehabilitation services, appropriate schools and wheelchair-accessible infrastructure — and, ultimately, a lack of acceptance.
This is not about being for or against something: This is about the fundamental right of women to decide for themselves. Poland’s government continues to stick its nose deeper into spheres of life that are none of its business. Politics now define what a good Polish person, a good Christian, a good wife and mother should be.
Women, in particular, as I know very well, are strong — strong enough to make their own decisions. This fact does not please everyone. But women will make themselves heard more and more. Even in Poland.