Law and Justice (PiS) lost the election not because it was ineffective in reaching out to the center-minded electorate, as some commentators suggest, but because it failed to stand its ground on fundamental issues. The defense of life was among those issues.
The author is the founder of the Life and Family Foundation (Fundacja Życie i Rodzina), and was the spokeswoman for the Stop to Abortion citizens’ bill in 2013 and 2015 as well as the initiator of the 2017 Stop Abortion citizens’ bill, which gathered a record 830,000 citizens’ signatures in a country of 38 million.
A leader who makes a breakthrough step and then backs off slightly and starts apologizing ceases to be a leader and loses support. This is how PiS behaved when, after the historic victory of the civilization of life that came with the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling on eugenic abortion, it looked around and decided to convince people that it was not so pro-life after all.
PiS, whose intention was to be the leader of the right side of the political scene, then started to show that it had only a little in common with its own electorate. And then it took offense when its electorate started looking for some different political option. PiS behaved like a salesman in a store pushing a product that doesn’t fit his customers, while using blackmail to persuade them that they have no other choice but to buy it.
Negotiating with terrorists
Let us go back three years to the historic victory of the pro-life cause, when the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that a number of articles of Poland’s basic law make the eugenic selection and killing of sick children unconstitutional. The general euphoria in the right-wing camp naturally collided with an eruption of discontent on the part of abortionists.
This was easily predictable. The protests unfolded in a manner that is typical of pro-abortion protests, reinforced by months of lockdown, and they ended with the discrediting of its leaders. The face of this movement, which was supposed to be an emanation of young women’s demands, was that of a far-from-young lesbian who had obviously no risk of falling pregnant, and who rarely formulated sentences free of crude vulgarities.
The whole thing was grotesque. In a way, this outbreak of street rebellion was a physiological phenomenon that could be weakened by not giving in to its demands.
Meanwhile, those in power decided to enter into an odd kind of negotiations with the terrorists. First, they did not publish the ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal (which was needed for it to take effect), and then President Duda himself sent a bill to parliament that would have restored eugenics in a theoretically truncated version, but leaving room for broad interpretation. The presidential draft law included the possibility of killing children who are lethally ill, and the definition of this state was vague. The draft never had its first reading, but lay in the Sejm until the end of its term, seemingly “just in case.”
Friendly gestures toward street troublemakers only encouraged them, reinforcing their belief that it was necessary to continue their campaign as it was already having a positive effect.
After the ruling of its constitutional court, the Polish government had a rare opportunity to become a pro-life leader in the world. To this day, Americans envy the Poles for leading the way, as the U.S. Supreme Court abolished the federal right to abortion only a year and a half after the Polish constitutional ruling. U.S. pro-life advocates, whose organizations often decide on who is to become a Republican candidate, and whose influence in Congress is truly impressive, looked to Poland with admiration, and their leaders lined up to consult with Polish pro-life advocates.
But what about the systematic education work that could be done through the public media?
Well, basically, it did not take place. Some pro-life films were aired from time to time, like the movie Unplanned telling the story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood abortion clinic director turned pro-life activist, that was broadcast on the day of the Constitutional Tribunal’s verdict, and more recently, during the election campaign, the Polish documentary “Pulse” (Tętno).
These broadcasts were big events and were widely reported. Why so? Because this type of content was rarely aired. The topic of abortion appeared in the public media sporadically and usually for one purpose: to show that Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform (PO) was worse than Jarosław Kaczyński’s Law and Justice (PiS).
The political instrumentalization of the fundamental issue, which is the safety of the unborn, was all too evident. It was accompanied by a specific message that sounded like blackmail: you must accept all our moves on abortion, because if another government comes, it could be even worse.
The government’s strategists and spin doctors missed one thing, however: new political alternatives began to appear that were addressed to pro-life advocates. These alternative proposals either had the protection of children from abortion explicitly on their agenda, or at least proclaimed quite clearly that such protection is necessary.
And the government camp carried out two other actions that were supposed to help, but came about at such a time that the distaste among the Catholic electorate only worsened.
The first of these was the defense of the good name of St. John Paul II, which was done with great pomp. This action was launched in March exactly one day after the Sejm rejected at first reading the citizens’ bill “Abortion is murder,” which provided for better legal tools to prosecute abortion crime.
One hundred deputies of the ruling coalition voted against the bill. I guess they are not really aware of how this kind of citizens’ initiative works. Well, to present such a bill to parliament, you need weeks of signature collection with titanic grassroots work and thousands of people involved. These people, having seen the government camp throw the result of their work into the trash in one fell swoop, are unlikely to love them much.
Those who do not understand such a simple thing are bound to lose voters.
In the period after the bill was rejected, we were sometimes met with the accusation that “we are fighting Law and Justice” (with our “Sejm without aborters” campaign). Meanwhile, the information we spread about which politicians had voted against the bill covered all MPs, regardless of party affiliation.
So it turns out that while MPs of the Left and the Civic Platform had no problem voting for abortion, PiS MPs who voted similarly expected their voters never to get to know about it. Unfortunately for them, defending the honor of the Polish pope just a day after voting against his teachings made their political hypocrisy all too apparent.
One of Law and Justice’s biggest mistakes
No less inadequate was the sending of a government delegation to the beatification ceremony of the Ulma family.
September was already a time of intense election campaigning, so politicians eagerly rushed to Markowa for the ceremony. The government delegation included Health Minister Katarzyna Sójka. Just two days after returning to Warsaw, she issued an order prolonging the work of a special team working on the development of guidelines to facilitate access to abortion.
This unique moment, when the Church elevated an unborn child to sanctity for the first time, thus clashed with the government’s work on making abortion less restricted. Was this how PiS wanted to build trust among pro-life voters?
Appointing this abortion guideline team in the first place was one of the ruling camp’s biggest mistakes.
There are unofficial claims that changes in allegiance among the pro-life electorate were not analyzed during the campaign. These assertions are hard to believe. Every move happening a few months before an election matters, especially when that move is made in the limelight.
The ministry’s abortion team, led by national gynecology and obstetrics consultant Professor Krzysztof Czajkowski, was inaugurated at a press conference attended by the latter as well as the then Health Minister Adam Niedzielski himself. This was last June, four months before the October 15 elections.
Declarations were made in front of reporters about the need to interpret the Polish anti-abortion law such that the “threat to a woman’s health or life” giving grounds for an abortion also refers to a woman’s psychological well-being.
What pregnant woman has never experienced a minor or major crisis? Hormonal changes, the new situation, sometimes surprise at the mere fact of becoming pregnant, the need to reorganize her life, perhaps a bad reaction from those around her (such as abandonment by the baby’s father), bad prenatal test results: all this can cause poor mental well-being and even depressive states. Then a woman would just have to declare to a psychiatrist that she sometimes has suicidal thoughts, and she would get her abortion papers.
The Health Ministry decided to use this path to circumvent two Constitutional Court rulings – from 1997 (on abortion on social grounds) and 2020 (on eugenic abortion).
This logic of mental ill-health, moreover, could open the way for the killing of infants. Between 10 and 22 percent of mothers experience postpartum depression. Some develop serious disorders that can lead to suicide or murder-suicide. Official government services report that in similar cases the mother is hospitalized to avoid risk to the child.
According to the Morawiecki government’s plans, however, slightly younger children could be aborted in such situations. This is truly a devilish idea.
One must also add to the list of strange government moves the negotiations over the World Health Organization’s pandemic treaty. This treaty will mean ceding some national powers to an international institution, which happens to be lobbied by the pharmaceutical industry and has been discredited more than once.
Given that the WHO refers to “reproductive rights” and “sexual health” at every opportunity, agreeing to have such an organization managing part of our health policy cannot but raise concerns among conservative voters. Such concern is all the more justified given that news about meetings of Polish officials with the WHO is conveyed in such a way that the content of the discussions and any arrangements made are kept confidential.
Vaccines made using cells from aborted children
The COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine were two major events in recent years, and both had abortion-related aspects.
Vaccines purchased by governments were tainted by abortion. Initially, attempts were made to defuse this issue by reporting that only certain vaccines were produced using fetal cell lines. However, it fairly quickly came to light that the HEK-293 (from the kidney of a 12-week-old fetus) or PER.C6 (from the retina of an 18-week-old fetus) cell lines were used to produce all vaccines at some stage of production or testing.
This shocking information did not prevent the Polish government from using more or less formal coercion to force the vaccine on people. This is not how you get voters on your side.
As for the war in Ukraine, in the first weeks of the mass influx of Ukrainian citizens, feminist circles contrived to use stories of mass wartime rape to get abortions carried out in Poland [where abortion is allowed in case of rape, ed.]. The first hospitals were already preparing to perform abortions, this whole action being led by the city of Warsaw [ruled by Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform, ed.], which has authority over some of the capital’s medical facilities.
At the same time, groups of abortionists rushed to the border with information in Ukrainian on how to legally terminate a pregnancy in Poland. These actions were accompanied by the narrative that abortion had to be offered to Ukrainian women, since the practice is unrestricted in their homeland.
When pro-life advocates handed out their own materials with instructions to report attempts to assist with abortion to the police, since killing babies is illegal in principle, the Health Ministry issued an astonishing letter telling them to add information in their leaflets about when abortion is legal and how to obtain it. It thus expected pro-life organizations to do something that goes contrary to their struggle.
A dangerous minority
From the outset, immigration from Ukraine (a radically pro-abortion country) was seen as an opportunity by the Polish left. Suffice it to mention the Ukrainian blocs at the LGBT marches (“Warsaw-Kyiv” or “Katowice-Odessa Pride”) or the attempts to build public support for legalizing abortion on demand.
This minority, many commentators point out, may in time gain voting rights and begin to participate directly in political life in Poland. Minorities tend to vote for the left. Even Mexicans in the U.S., who are immigrants from a rather traditional, Catholic country, vote Democrat, because cosmopolitanism is better for them than national slogans.
In the Polish elections on October 15, 355,000 votes went to the little-known Poland Is One party. Apart from its leader, its members are all unknown to the public. Catholic, and sometimes even mystical slogans were enough, though, to appeal to a significant number of Polish voters.
The leaders of the Confederation, a right-wing alliance of [traditionally strongly pro-life and Christian] nationalists and libertarians, decided, on the other hand, to move more to the center, which strengthened Grzegorz Braun’s conservative [and unequivocally pro-life] wing named Confederation of the Polish Crown. Disgust with the pro-abortion statements of some Confederation leaders was widespread.
Add to this the signs that many people with traditional views simply stayed home. Together with the exceptional mobilization of the opposition electorate, all this added up to the electoral defeat suffered by Law and Justice.
It is hard to believe that their party staff did not analyze what was happening among the pro-life electorate. If there really was no such analysis, maybe it is time to start doing some. And if there were analyses, it was probably concluded erroneously that not many Polish people were really willing to defend life. But it turned out that this staunchly pro-life minority had a fundamental influence on the elections, after all.
The pro-life vote matters in Poland and it will not go to parties that silently support abortion. It would be good if politicians finally understood this.
This article was first published in Polish in the Do Rzeczy weekly in November 2023.