Polish minister likens abortion regime to Nazi-era euthanasia

Parliament debates Bill to ban abortion as government continues conservative push

A protest against plans to introduce a new abortion law in front of the Sejm parliament building in Warsaw on Thursday. Photograph: Pawel Supernak/EPA

A protest against plans to introduce a new abortion law in front of the Sejm parliament building in Warsaw on Thursday. Photograph: Pawel Supernak/EPA

 

Poland’s interior minister has urged MPs to back a new Bill effectively outlawing abortion by likening the current regime – already one of the most restrictive in Europe – to Nazi-era euthanasia.

Warsaw’s Sejm parliament began debating a proposed Bill on Thursday to outlaw terminations and curb sex education, part of the national conservative government’s “counter-revolution” against liberal European norms.

The current regime from 1993 allows abortions in three cases: after rape or incest, if the child is “seriously malformed”, or if the mother’s health is in danger.

Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) government and the influential Catholic Church have backed a draft Bill which would eliminate these grounds for abortion, putting the country in the same category as Guatemala and the Vatican. Women’s groups have tabled a competing Bill that would liberalise the existing regime.

After filling public media with party loyalists and hobbling the constitutional court’s ability to oversee new legislation, the PiS government has rolled out a series of new family policies since taking office last year, including a monthly 500zl (€117) per child allowance.

All sides agree that the abortion standoff is the most emotive battleground yet in a cultural war gripping the central European country of 38 million people.

“I hope we’ll have a change, a departure from eugenics, or practices that are identical with those in Germany at times of Hitler, where abortion was allowed due to illnesses,” said interior minister Mariusz Blaszczak, saying on public radio that four out of every five pregnancies are terminated in Poland if the foetus shows signs of Down’s Syndrome.

The Third Reich’s eugenics programme was a pseudo-scientific bid to “cleanse” the “Aryan race” by murdering more than 300,000 people deemed unworthy of life, including epileptics, the deaf, the blind, homosexuals and manic depressives. Another 400,000 were forcibly sterilised before public protests halted the programme.

On Friday, Polish MPs will decide whether to send on the competing Bills to the committee stage, with no deadline for a final decision.

Ahead of the parliamentary vote, thousands of women have joined pro-choice marches, the latest at the weekend, while pro-life campaigner have set up stands and run events in all major Polish cities.

At a recent press conference before the Sejm parliament building, organiser of the pro-life campaign Mariusz Dzierzawski described the current regime as a “Holocaust of the unborn”.

“The murder of Polish children continues,” he said. “That you can legally kill people in Poland is a disgrace. It’s comparable to what happened under Hitler.”

Official data suggests about 1,800 abortions were performed in Poland in 2014, up 500 in a year, while women’s groups say the true figure may be as high as 200,000 – when illegal terminations and abortions abroad are included.

Pro-choice activist Wanda Nowicka said that, if the restrictive Bill goes to committee on Friday, new restrictions are likely.

“The question is just: how many restrictions,” she said. “PiS say they are against criminalising women but say nothing about the protection of the life of a woman if she seeks an abortion after rape.”