View Birth, Abortion and Infant Mortality Rates for Poland 1960 – 2006 in PDF format here
The story of Poland’s retreat from wholesale abortion received no publicity, even in pro-life circles in the West. It is a fascinating story. Poland is the first country in modern times to retreat from massive abortion. It has a message for all pro-lifers everywhere. Perhaps, like slavery in the United States, one must change the practice before changing the law.
Abortion was imposed on Poland by the Communist regime after World War 2. In 1960, it had 150,500 abortions, much the same rate as the combined rate of England and Wales. When Poland’s Cardinal Wotyla became Pope and Lech Walensa started the Solidarity Movement, abortion was well established and routinely practised.
In the 1980s Communism collapsed in Poland. Spiritual values came to the fore and were given public support and articulation. When Lech Walensa became President, a new Constitution was framed and, in 1993, a law was enacted restricting abortion, except in so-called crisis situations. Solidarity wanted a total ban but could not muster sufficient parliamentary support.
The next Government sought to overturn the law. They narrowly forced legislation through Parliament in 1996 revoking the 1993 restrictions and restoring the abortion on demand regime of the Communist era. Their victory was short-lived. The Constitutional Court struck down the 1996 law on Natural Law principles because the unborn child’s right to life was protected under the Polish Constitution. So the 1993 law restricting abortion still stands.
The amazing thing was that Polish abortions declined sharply long before the 1993 legislation made it compulsory. They dropped steadily from 123,500 in 1987, 59,500 in 1990,11,500 in 1992, 1,200 in 1993, 559 in 1995 and 491 in 1996. Some commentators forecast that it would lead to a surge in births, more illegal abortions posing as miscarriages, more maternal deaths, more infanticide and child murder. However Polish social statistics showed no significant change in any of these; on the contrary there was a a marked decline in hospitalisation after miscarriages and maternal deaths. And admissions for complications of pregnancy dropped from 178 to 144 per 10,000 women.
How does one explain this turnaround? Dr. Pawel Wosicki, President of the Polish Federation of Pro-Life Movements ( Polska Federacja Ruchów Obrony Zycia) says the decline began with education on the reality of unborn life and abortions declined long before the 1993 law was enacted. Of course pro-life politicians also openly championed the pro-life cause, and the fact that there was a Polish Pope in Rome had no small impact.
Whilst Poland faces its challenges like every other European country their respect for unborn human life and success at changing the abortion culture over 40 years is inspirational.