A legal travesty in Poland

A few years ago, Alicja Tysiac, a Polish woman who suffers from severe myopia, tried to obtain an abortion, arguing that carrying the child to term posed a grave risk to what remained of her sight. Two competent doctors disagreed and Ms. Tysiac’s petition was denied; her situation did not satisfy any of the three exceptions to Poland’s protective law on fetal life, under which abortion is legal only in cases of rape, serious fetal handicap, or grave health risk to the mother. Ms. Tysiac filed a “wrongful birth” suit in the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that the Polish government’s refusal of an abortion had violated her human rights. The Court, perhaps predictably, agreed, and awarded her 25,000 euros in damages.

After the European Court’s decision, Father Marek Gancarczyk, editor of Poland’s most widely circulated quality Catholic magazine, Gość Niedzielny (Sunday Visitor), published an editorial that disagreed with the Court’s judgment in these terms: “Ms. Tysiac will receive 25,000 euro damages, plus the cost of the proceedings, for not being able to kill her child. In other words, we are living in a world where a mother is granted an award for the fact that she very much wanted to kill her child, but was forbidden to do so. ”

Ms. Tysiac then sued Father Gancarczyk in the District Court of Katowice (the Silesian city where Gość Niedzielny is published), claiming that the editor had defamed her by writing that she had wanted to “kill her child.” Amazingly, the Katowice District Court agreed and ordered Father Gancarczyk to pay the plaintiff US$11,000 in damages and to publish a court-dictated “apology” in his magazine. Father Gancarczyk rightly refused to do so and appealed the District Court’s decision to the Katowice Appeals Court—which recently ruled against Father Gancarczyk, too. A further appeal will be made to the Polish Supreme Court.

In the interests of full disclosure, let me note that Father Gancarczyk is a friend and that I have written essays for Gość Niedzielny over the years. That being said, however, I shall also say that the decisions by the Katowice District and Appeals Courts are travesties of justice—and a disturbing sign that some of the worst judicial habits of Poland’s post-war past are, objectively speaking, alive and well, 21 years after the collapse of Polish communism. Which bad habits? The falsification of reality by judicial ukase (decree) is one. The punishment of legitimate opinion by coercive state power is another. The attempt to impose a new social order through the judicial usurpation of politics is a third.

For the sake of charity, it’s probably best to assume that the Katowice courts adopted these bad habits, not from the Stalinist past, but from the western European and Canadian present, where the judicial deligitimation and punishment of politically incorrect opinion has become something of a legal industry. The Katowice decisions also seem to reflect the unsavory tendency of American courts to wade into questions of the identity and boundaries of religious communities, questions that are really none of their business. The presiding judge of the Katowice Appeals Court, for example, opined that Father Gancarczyk’s editorial was, well, non-Christian: “Christianity is a religion of love,” she wrote in her decision, “and this is what the language of the Catholic press should be like.”

Poles struggled for many things during the remarkable decade that gave birth to the Revolution of 1989: the truth about their national identity and culture; the truth about their history; the right to determine their future as free men and women, and to do so as believers in the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus. One thing Poles were most certainly not fighting for was judicial control of the editorial policies of Catholic magazines. That judges in a democratic Poland might dictate the rhetorical boundaries that Catholic publications must observe in their commentary on public affairs would have struck the heroes of 1989 as an absurdity; Poland had suffered enough of that in the decades after 1946. The Polish Supreme Court might keep that history in mind as it reviews the legal travesties that have taken place in Katowice.

 

COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”