A Catholic priest plays a recording of an ultrasound examination during a sermon. He threatened the underage girls that he would tell their parents if they had an abortion. He intimidated couples waiting in hospital for an operation due to a fetal defect when it was still allowed before the law was tightened last year. He also scolds parents and waves ultrasound pictures in front of men who want to leave their pregnant girlfriends.
But Kancelarczyk’s most effective tool is what the state has neglected: helping single mothers obtain housing, baby equipment and, if necessary, lawyers to sue their abusive partners.
“Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the number of cases like this,” the 54-year-old priest says while visiting the single mothers’ shelter he runs in a nearby village. Some women are pregnant, some are carrying a child, but all of them are in trouble. “There should be 200 or 300 such houses in Poland,” he says. “But they are empty.”
In Poland, it is clear that a country bent on ending abortion cares little about what comes next – children who need help and support.
Poland’s government offers some of the most generous family benefits in the region, but provides minimal support to single mothers and families with a disabled child, similar to those parts of the United States that have outlawed abortion.
“They kept saying they were pro-life, but only interested in a woman until she gave birth,” says Kristina Kacporova, who heads an association that opposes the government ban in Warsaw. “There is no systematic support for single mothers in Poland, especially mothers with disabled children,” she says.
This is one reason why the number of abortions does not seem to decrease – the ban has simply pushed her to work underground or outside Poland. While the number of legal abortions has dropped to about 1,000 per year, activists fighting for the right to abortion estimate that each year, despite all the bans, about 150,000 Polish women’s pregnancies are terminated: they either take the “abortion” pills or go. abroad for an abortion.
There are currently 1.3 children per Polish woman, one of the lowest numbers in Europe and about half what it was under communism, when the country had some of the most liberal abortion laws in the world.
The legal ban, even anti-abortion activists like Kancilargic admit, “did not make a noticeable difference” to the numbers. But offering help in the form of food, housing or childcare can sometimes change things. Kancelarczyk proudly says that this help helps “save” 40 pregnancies per year.
Monika Niklasova, a 42-year-old mother of two from Szczecin, went to mass with Kanslarczyk for the first time shortly after learning that her unborn child had Down syndrome. It was ten years ago, when the abortion ban didn’t yet cover fetal defects, so she was considering an abortion. “I thought my world had collapsed,” she said.
While on duty, Kancelarczyk played a video of what he described as a heartbeat. “You captured my heart,” he recalls. “After the mass, we went to the priest and told him about our situation,” she added. He was one of the first people to tell her and her husband that they could do it and support them.
Krzysztof was born. Niklas gave up her career as an architect to devote herself entirely to her son. Just this fall, nine-year-old Krzysztof secured a place at school, one example of how disregarding the authorities are of parents’ needs.
Now Niklasova advises parents who are expecting the birth of a disabled child and tries to persuade them to keep the child. “I didn’t tell them that everything would be fine because it would be difficult,” she said. “But if they accept that life will be different from what they imagined, they can be happy.” “Krzysztof taught me love,” she added.
In fact, one thing never came up in her conversations with her future parents: the abortion ban. “It doesn’t affect how people make decisions,” she said. “Those who want an abortion will continue to do so, only abroad.”
Kancelarczyk says the number of women who come to him because they are considering an abortion has not increased since the abortion ban was tightened. But he still supports the ban: “The law has a normative effect. What is allowed is seen as good, and what is forbidden is seen as bad,” says the pastor.
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