[Featured Image: an artistic rendition of a uterus made out of pink flower petals, with the words ‘my body my rules. Source]
Patricia Szima is a Second Year Political Economy student with an interest in gender equality -with a focus on the workplace. Enjoying the sunset on the beach, baking fudgy brownies, and playing Scrabble are her favourite activities.
Whether or not to have a child is a wholly private matter and is in no way the business of others. Still, the private and public sphere tend to mix when it comes to giving birth to a child. People like to offer their opinion on others’ decisions even if it was not asked. They like to judge others, condemn their actions, and tell them what to do. What is even worse is when the government or public figures tell people what they ought to do in the most private matters one can imagine.
Giving birth in the service of the nation
Undoubtedly fertility rates are below replacement level, and population shrinking is a problem that most of Europe has to deal with eventually. It is always reassuring to know that the government realises these potential problems and thinks about how the situation could be improved.
“But it is an undeniable truth that the world belongs to those who give birth to as many children as possible”[i]
Hungarian politician and current Speaker of the National Assembly of Hungary, Kövér László undoubtedly found a solution to the problem of population-shrinking that he finds satisfactory. He simply felt the need to pass on this message to the not yet enlightened public who have not realised: In order to salvage the nation, women have to start producing babies with immediate effect as if they were factory machines. However, the idea is not too original since in 2018 Edda Budaházy contrasts how much people care about baby seals’ survival, about elephants’ extinction, how they allow their dogs to sleep on the couch with abortions and lack of care for the murdered next generation of the nation.[ii] She aims to provoke people on why they think abortion is acceptable if we care so much about baby seals. In a video Budaházy highlights that those who do not have at least two children do not care enough to salvage the Hungarian nation. In 1900 5.2 children per family, in 1970 2 children per family, in 2011 1.2 children per family – while this ‘excellent summary’ in the beginning of the video ignores ‘negligible’ changes -changes in social norms, fights for a different life, education, and end of vulnerability for women- it argues how women have been flippantly neglecting their duty to have enough children. Because women do not keep up the reproduction level the nation is going extinct in demographic terms. While Budaházy willingly questions why people would think that they have the right to decide what happens to the human life in women’s body, she encourages Hungarians to populate the Pannonian Basin. She calls for people to not sacrifice the Hungarian nation’s chance of survival. Childbearing is a national issue for Budaházy -the leader of the Give Birth to One More Hungarian Movement.
Near-total ban on abortion
While this call for more children was not the Hungarian government’s move, the Polish government has interfered in women’s lives in a very direct way. It has taken pro-life to a next level with the ruling that abortion when “prenatal tests or other medical indications indicate a high probability of severe and irreversible foetal impairment or an incurable life-threatening disease” [iii] is not acceptable. By taking away women’s right to terminate pregnancy in cases of severe foetal defects, essentially almost all so far legal abortion cases became illegal. This leaves legal ground for abortion only in cases of rape, incest and possible threat to the mother’s health and life -accounting for roughly 2% of reasons for legal abortion seeking in previous years.[iv]
Julia Przylebska, Head of the Constitutional Tribunal argued that to subject the right to life of the unborn child to his/her health conditions and to allow for eugenic practices when dealing with the right to life are not consistent with the constitution.[v]
The Polish government apparently wants to implement such severe measures to protect the life of an unborn child and proponents of the Constitutional Tribunal’s decision agree and advocate that one cannot kill a child for being sick.
Therefore, I am -just like many others- eager to see what protection for the life of the born child will be provided throughout his/her life and what support will be given to the parents coping with the treatment of the child’s severe and irreversible impairment or with the incurable life-threatening disease that can very well deprive the child of the opportunity of independent existence. It is important because if the line of argument is that a child’s life should be protected then this protection should not cease in the moment of birth.
On the other hand, these babies may not even survive. Serious damage to the foetus can mean that they will not live when they come into the world or live merely for hours.
However, the Polish political parties are already working on a detailed plan on how to ‘alleviate’ the pain of mothers who are forced by law to give birth to their non-viable children.[vi] To process that their baby was born dead, to come to terms with their baby dying, being severely sick, living in pain for the rest of his/her life, never being able to exist without help they are provided with a designated to room in the hospital to cry.
Spokeswoman for the justice ministry said that women giving birth to a foetus with fatal defects will have the possibility to have a cry in a private room. It is almost expected of women to control their emotions behind closed doors, after all the Polish government would not want women to make a fuss about how they were forced to experience severe trauma, that scarred them for life. It would be much more humane if instead of doing damage-control and making women deal with this deep and severe trauma, there was no trauma caused in the first place.[vii]
If Polish protests will make any difference remains to be seen, however as it was pointed out in The Handmaid’s Tale[viii] “Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.” Perhaps there is a bigger picture, into which women’s basic human right of having control over their body does not fit.
As Hungarian singer Ákos Kovács [ix]stated with the utmost confidence, women’s principal -the task they ought to fulfil and stay committed to- is to give children to men, and especially to belong to someone. Polish government proved that they believe women belong to them. They feel entitled to take away women’s control over their bodies.
[i] Sarkadi, Zs. (2020) ‘Kövér László: A világ azoké, akik teleszülik’ 444, 27.10.2020, Available under: https://444.hu/2020/10/27/kover-laszlo-a-vilag-azoke-akik-teleszulik
[ii] Urfi, P. (2018) ‘Zavar a migráció? Őrjöngsz, hogy afrikai kannibálok árasszák el Európát? Akkor SZÜLJÉL!’ 444, 25.05.2018, Available from : https://444.hu/2018/05/25/zavar-a-migracio-orjongsz-hogy-afrikai-kannibalok-arasszak-el-europat-akkor-szuljel
[iii] Walker, S. (2020) ’Pro-choice protesters march in Polish cities amid abortion ban anger’ The Guardian, 23.10.2020 Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/23/poland-braced-for-more-protests-over-abortion-ban-ruling
[iv] Staff and agencies in Warsaw (2020)’Poland rules abortion due to foetal defects unconstitutional’ The Guardian 22.10.2020 Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/22/poland-rules-abortion-due-to-foetal-defects-unconstitutional
[v]Plucinska, J., Ptak, A. (2020) ’Polish court ruling amounts to almost total ban on abortion’ Reuters 22.10.2020
[vi] Magyari, P. (2021)’Az életképtelen magzatuk megszülésére kötelezett lengyel nőknek sírószobát ajánl a kormány’ 444, 04.02.2021,Available from: https://444.hu/2021/02/04/az-eletkeptelen-magzatuk-megszulesere-kotelezett-lengyel-noknek-siroszobat-ajanl-a-kormany
[vii] Tilles, D. (2021) ’Polish ministry proposes “room to cry in” for women forced to give birth by abortion ban’ Notes from Poland 03.02.2021 Available from: https://notesfrompoland.com/2021/02/03/polish-ministry-proposes-room-to-cry-in-for-women-forced-to-give-birth-by-abortion-ban/
[viii] Atwood M, ’The Handmaid’s Tale’ Goodreads Available from: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/264962-better-never-means-better-for-everyone-it-always-means-worse
[ix] Fődi, K (2020) ’Még ha kedvesen is mondja, akkor is szülőgépnek minősíti a nőket Novák miniszter’ 444, 15.12.2020 Available from: https://444.hu/2020/12/15/meg-ha-kedvesen-is-mondja-akkor-is-szulogepnek-minositi-a-noket-novak-miniszter