A Polish Priest’s Struggle In opposition to Abortion Focuses on Serving to Single Moms

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SZCZECIN, Poland — The Polish state has banned abortion for 29 years, however that has completed little to stop ladies 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 ladies contemplating an abortion. He has threatened teenage ladies with telling their dad and mom 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.

However Father Kancelarczyk’s handiest device, he acknowledges, may very well be one thing the state has principally 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.

“Generally I’m overwhelmed by the variety of these circumstances,” Father Kancelarczyk, 54, mentioned throughout a latest go to to his Little Toes Home, a shelter he runs in a close-by village for single ladies, some pregnant, some with youngsters, all with difficulties. “There ought to be 200 or 300 homes like that is Poland. There’s a vacuum.”

As strict abortion bans proliferate in some American states, Poland provides a laboratory, of kinds, for the 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 oldsters of disabled youngsters, much the same as in the parts of the United States the place abortion bans are being put in place.

“They name themselves pro-life, however they’re solely inquisitive about ladies till they provide start,” mentioned Krystyna Kacpura, the president of the Federation for Ladies and Household Planning, a Warsaw-based advocacy group that opposes the federal government ban. “There isn’t any systemic help for moms in Poland, particularly moms of disabled youngsters.”

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

Poland’s fertility fee, at present at 1.3 youngsters per lady, is among the lowest in Europe — half of what it was throughout Communist instances, when the nation had one of the liberal abortion regimes on the earth.

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

Providing meals, housing or a spot in little one care, however, can typically make a distinction, and Father Kancelarczyk, who raises cash by donations, says proudly that such help helps him “save” 40 pregnancies a yr.

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. Nobody needed to rent her as a result of she was pregnant. And she or he was refused unemployment advantages on the grounds that she was “not employable.”

“The state fully abandons single moms,” she mentioned.

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

“Someday I had nothing,” Beata mentioned. “The following day he reveals up with all this stuff: furnishings, garments, diapers. I might even select the colour of my stroller.”

9 years later, Beata works as an accountant and the son she selected to have, Michal, thrives at college.

For a lot of 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 purple brick church towers instantly reverse a liberal arts heart 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 physique, my alternative.”

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

He will get hate mail practically each day, he says, calling it “Devil’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 folks like Father Kancelarczyk to “indoctrinate” ladies who discover themselves in monetary and emotional misery.

Underneath Communism, little one care was free and most Polish workplaces had on-site amenities to encourage moms to hitch the work power. However 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 Legislation and Justice Celebration, which was elected in 2015 on a pro-family platform, noticed alternative and handed one in every of Europe’s most beneficiant little one advantages applications. It was a revolution in Poland’s household coverage.

But it surely nonetheless lacks little one care, a precondition for moms to go to work, in addition to particular help for the dad and mom 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 lady considering abortion — “normally a girlfriend” — typically he calls the pregnant lady. When she doesn’t need to discuss, he says he’ll engineer bumping into her and power a dialog.

He additionally admonishes the fathers, waving ultrasound photographs within the faces of males seeking to depart their pregnant girlfriends. “If males behaved decently, ladies wouldn’t get abortions,” he mentioned.

Whereas 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 he or she had been considering an abortion. “I believed my world was crumbling down,” she mentioned.

Throughout 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 shifting,” Ms. Niklas recalled. “After the Mass, we went to speak to him, and instructed him about our scenario.” He was one of many first folks 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 deal with him full time. Krzys, now 9, bought a spot in a faculty solely this fall, one instance of how authorities help falls far in need of matching their wants.

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

“I by no means simply inform them, ‘It will likely be all proper,’ as a result of it will likely be exhausting,” she mentioned. “However in case you settle for that your life will probably be completely different from what you had envisaged, you could be very pleased.”

“We’ve got these concepts about what our kids will probably be — a lawyer, a health care provider, an astronaut,” she added. “Krzys taught me about love.”

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

“This has not impacted how folks make selections,” she mentioned. “Those that need to get an abortion do it anyway, solely overseas.”

Many ladies right here concurred.

Kasia, who additionally didn’t need her full identify used as a result of the stigma that surrounds the difficulty, is one in every of 9 ladies at present 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 good friend contacted an abortion clinic throughout the border in Germany.

“It isn’t tough,” she mentioned of getting an unlawful termination. “It’s a matter of getting a cellphone quantity.”

Ultimately, 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 court docket. He’s now serving a 10-month sentence and may lose custody.

“I really feel protected now,” Kasia mentioned.

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

“The legislation all the time has a normative impact,” he mentioned. “What’s permitted is perceived nearly as good, and what’s forbidden as unhealthy.”

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