A Polish Priest’s War Against Abortion Focuses on Helping Single Mothers

SZCZECIN, Poland — The Polish state has banned abortion for 29 years, however that has achieved little to stop girls from discovering entry to the process, leaving the Rev. Tomasz Kancelarczyk a busy man.

The Roman Catholic priest performs ultrasound audio of what he describes as fetal heartbeats in his sermons to dissuade girls contemplating an abortion. He has threatened teenage ladies with telling their mother and father if they’ve an abortion. He hectored {couples} as they waited on the hospital for abortions on account of fetal abnormalities, which have been permitted till the legislation was additional tightened final yr.

But Father Kancelarczyk’s handiest instrument, he acknowledges, may very well be one thing the state has largely uncared for: serving to single moms by offering them with shelter, grocery store vouchers, child garments and, if want be, legal professionals to go after violent companions.

“Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the number of these cases,” Father Kancelarczyk, 54, mentioned throughout a current go to to his Little Feet House, a shelter he runs in a close-by village for single girls, some pregnant, some with youngsters, all with difficulties. “There should be 200 or 300 houses like this is Poland. There is a vacuum.”

As strict abortion bans proliferate in some American states, Poland provides a laboratory, of types, for a way such bans ripple by societies. And one factor evident in Poland is that the state, if decided to cease abortions, is much less targeted on what comes afterward — a toddler who wants assist and help.

Poland’s authorities has a few of the area’s most beneficiant household welfare advantages, but it nonetheless provides solely minimal help for single moms and fogeys of disabled youngsters, a lot the identical as within the components of the United States the place abortion bans are being put in place.

“They call themselves pro-life, but they are only interested in women until they give birth,” mentioned Krystyna Kacpura, the president of the Federation for Women and Family Planning, a Warsaw-based advocacy group that opposes the federal government ban. “There is no systemic support for mothers in Poland, especially mothers of disabled children.”

This is one cause the variety of abortions doesn’t seem to have really dropped — abortions have merely been pushed underground or in another country. While authorized abortions have dropped to about 1,000 a yr, abortion-rights activists estimate that 150,000 Polish girls terminate pregnancies yearly, regardless of the ban, both utilizing abortion tablets or by touring overseas.

Poland’s fertility charge, at the moment at 1.3 youngsters per girl, is likely one of the lowest in Europe — half of what it was throughout Communist occasions, when the nation had one of the liberal abortion regimes on this planet.

The authorized ban, even die-hard anti-abortion warriors like Father Kancelarczyk concede, has made “no discernible difference” to the numbers.

Offering meals, housing or a spot in little one care, on the opposite hand, can generally make a distinction, and Father Kancelarczyk, who raises cash by donations, says proudly that such help helps him “save” 40 pregnancies a yr.

The Issue of Abortion Around the World

Card 1 of 8

An evolving panorama. Women’s entry to abortion continues to be debated across the globe. Here’s a have a look at the state of affairs in some international locations:

Thailand. The Thai Parliament voted in 2021 to make abortion authorized within the first trimester, whereas retaining penalties in place for girls who endure it later of their pregnancies. Advocates say the measure doesn’t go far sufficient.

One was that of Beata, a 36-year-old single mom who didn’t need to disclose her full identify for worry of stigma in her deeply Catholic neighborhood.

When she turned pregnant along with her second little one, she mentioned the daddy of the kid and her household shunned her. No financial institution would lend her cash as a result of she had no job. No one wished to rent her as a result of she was pregnant. And she was refused unemployment advantages on the grounds that she was “not employable.”

“The state completely abandons single mothers,” she mentioned.

Then at some point, as she was sitting on the ground in her tiny unfurnished condo, Father Kancelarczyk, who was alerted by a pal, known as, inspired her to maintain the child and supplied assist.

“One day I had nothing,” Beata mentioned. “The next day he shows up with all these things: furniture, clothes, diapers. I could even choose the color of my stroller.”

Nine years later, Beata works as an accountant and the son she selected to have, Michal, thrives in school.

For many ladies, Father Kancelarczyk has turned out to be the one security internet — although his charity comes with a model of Christian fervor that polarizes, a division on stark show in Szczecin.

Father Kancelarczyk’s gothic crimson brick church towers straight reverse a liberal arts middle whose home windows are adorned with a row of black lightning bolts — the image of Poland’s abortion rights motion — and a poster proclaiming, “My body, my choice.”

Every yr, Father Kancelarczyk organizes Poland’s greatest anti-abortion march with hundreds departing from his church and dealing with off with counterprotesters throughout the road. Before a neighborhood homosexual pleasure parade, he as soon as known as on his congregants to “disinfect the streets.”

He will get hate mail practically day-after-day, he says, calling it “Satan’s work.”

Ms. Kacpura, the advocate who opposes the federal government ban, says that the shortage of state help particularly for single moms has opened up area for individuals like Father Kancelarczyk to “indoctrinate” girls who discover themselves in monetary and emotional misery.

Under Communism, little one care was free and most Polish workplaces had on-site amenities to encourage moms to hitch the work pressure. But that system collapsed after 1989, whereas an emboldened Roman Catholic Church put its shoulder behind the 1993 abortion ban because it additionally rekindled a imaginative and prescient of girls as moms and caregivers at house.

The nationalist and conservative Law and Justice Party, which was elected in 2015 on a pro-family platform, noticed alternative and handed one among Europe’s most beneficiant little one advantages applications. It was a revolution in Poland’s household coverage.

But it nonetheless lacks little one care, a precondition for moms to go to work, in addition to particular help for the mother and father of disabled youngsters. Over the previous decade, teams of fogeys of disabled youngsters twice occupied the Polish Parliament to protest the shortage of state help, in 2014 and 2018.

When somebody contacts Father Kancelarczyk a couple of girl considering abortion — “usually a girlfriend” — generally he calls the pregnant girl. When she doesn’t need to discuss, he says he’ll engineer bumping into her and pressure a dialog.

He additionally admonishes the fathers, waving ultrasound pictures within the faces of males seeking to go away their pregnant girlfriends. “If men behaved decently, women would not get abortions,” he mentioned.

While abhorred by many, he’s admired within the non secular communities the place he preaches.

Monika Niklas, a 42-year-old mom of two from Szczecin, first attended Mass with Father Kancelarczyk not lengthy after she had discovered that her unborn child had Down syndrome. This was 10 years in the past, earlier than the ban included fetal abnormalities, and she or he had been considering an abortion. “I thought my world was crumbling down,” she mentioned.

During his service, Father Kancelarczyk had performed a video from his cellphone with the sound of what he described as a fetal heartbeat.

“It was so moving,” Ms. Niklas recalled. “After the Mass, we went to talk to him, and told him about our situation.” He was one of many first individuals to inform her and her husband they have been going to make it and supplied help.

After her son Krzys was born, Ms. Niklas gave up on her profession as an architect to maintain him full time. Krzys, now 9, acquired a spot in a college solely this fall, one instance of how authorities help falls far wanting matching their wants.

She now advises anticipating mother and father of disabled youngsters, attempting to counsel them to maintain their infants — however with out sugarcoating it.

“I never just tell them, ‘It will be all right,’ because it will be hard,” she mentioned. “But if you accept that your life will be different from what you had envisaged, you can be very happy.”

“We have these ideas about what our children will be — a lawyer, a doctor, an astronaut,” she added. “Krzys taught me about love.”

But in all her counsel, she mentioned, one factor barely options: the abortion ban.

“This has not impacted how people make decisions,” she mentioned. “Those who want to get an abortion do it anyway, only abroad.”

Many girls right here concurred.

Kasia, who additionally didn’t need her full identify used as a result of the stigma that surrounds the problem, is one among 9 girls at the moment dwelling at Father Kancelarczyk’s shelter. She was 23 when she turned pregnant. She mentioned her boyfriend had abused her — the police refused to intervene — after which left her. Her mom had kicked her out of the home. A pal contacted an abortion clinic throughout the border in Germany.

“It is not difficult,” she mentioned of getting an unlawful termination. “It is a matter of getting a phone number.”

In the tip, it was a near-miscarriage within the eighth week of her being pregnant that modified Kasia’s thoughts and persuaded her to hold out her being pregnant.

Father Kancelarczyk supplied her not simply free room and board in his shelter however a lawyer, who took the previous boyfriend to courtroom. He is now serving a 10-month sentence and would possibly lose custody.

“I feel safe now,” Kasia mentioned.

Father Kancelarczyk says the variety of girls referred to him as a result of they have been contemplating abortion didn’t enhance when Poland’s ban was tightened for fetal abnormalities. But he nonetheless helps the ban.

“The law always has a normative effect,” he mentioned. “What is permitted is perceived as good, and what is forbidden as bad.”

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