Fr Philip Dyer-Perry, Parish Priest at Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Staines, has written the following message to Polish parishioners in his newsletter this weekend:
A few words for our Polish parishioners
It's clear that the recent decision of the Polish government to ban abortion in all but the most extreme circumstances has caused an unprecedented level of anger and concern both in Poland and also among many of you in the Polish community here in Staines. Although I am not Polish, and my knowledge of Polish politics is limited, I am commenting because you are part of our parish community, we are united by our international Catholic faith, and I want to reach out to those who are perhaps dismayed or concerned by this issue.
Let me start by being absolutely clear: As a Catholic and as a priest, I am pro-life. To be pro-life means to respect and cherish human life consistently and in every circumstance. So I support measures to prevent loss of life through Covid-19, I support the welfare of migrants and refuges, I support Black Lives Matter, I support those seeking equal rights for LGBTQ persons, I support the rehabilitation of prisoners, the worldwide abolition of the death penalty, the care of the elderly, nuclear disarmament, and all efforts to make sure that every man, woman, or child is able to live free from any form of abuse. And I also support the protection of unborn children.
Nevertheless, and with due respect, my personal impression (and I fully respect your other opinions) is that the recent decision of the Polish government is a bad one.
- Firstly, it fails to recognise the complex reality that women and medical staff face, imposing a blanket rule in place of careful medical judgement. There are situations where the abortion of a pregnancy, tragic though it is, may be the least-worst and most appropriate decision. Likewise, there will be times when it is only right to carry the child to term. Political and religious leaders do not necessarily know best!
- Secondly, this law fails to respect the choice and autonomy of the mother. It is very courageous decision (and arguably right) for a woman to choose to give birth to a child with disabilities - but courage cannot be imposed by government edict. While governments have a responsibility to safeguard all lives, the reality is that the unborn child lives within the woman's body, is entirely dependent on the mother for life, and therefore the most appropriate person to decide whether to continue with the pregnancy is the mother - assisted of course by medical professionals and others. Matters are not helped when those who seek to impose this new law are, predominately, male.
- Thirdly, the imposition of a law that has met with almost universal protest, even among those who are even more ardently pro-life than me, threatens all the progress the pro-life movement has made in recent years. It serves to harden the resolve of those who would seek to remove all safeguards around abortion, and fails to win over the 'hearts and minds' necessary for building a culture of life. Rather than building a broad consensus that abortion should be 'safe, legal, and rare', it divides people into two distinctive and opposing camps - pro- and anti-abortion. This is not the way to progress the protection of the unborn child.
The desire to reduce the number of abortions is an admirable one. Every life is important, and every loss of life is a tragedy, but if a government (any government) is serious about preventing further loss of life, there are other steps that can and should be taken. These include proper sex and relationships education, life-long support for those seeking to raise a child with disability, as well as other measures which, to its credit, the Polish government already takes to support families.
At present, the situation reminds me of the words of Jesus 'Woe also to you scribes! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.' I very much hope the Polish government will rethink their decision. I also hope the leaders of the Church in Poland will support those protesting and work to promote the lives of unborn children in a sensible and sustainable way.
I am open to your comments and reflections on this issue, but please be respectful to others in the manner of your replies. Also, if like me, you are not Polish, bear in mind how your comments may come across.