Antoni Zieba, secretary of World Prayer for Life and vice president of the Polish Federation of Pro-Life Movements, spoke with ZENIT about the Polish outlook on abortion.
He expressed his dismay that the United Nations and the European Union put pressure on Poland to liberalize abortion. The nation's abortion law permits the procedure only in cases of a severe fetal deformity, or when the woman's life is in danger because of the pregnancy, or she is a victim of rape.
Compared with Spain for example, which has a similar abortion law, Poland has a very low number of abortions. In Spain in 2006 there were 98,500 abortions, while in Poland that same year, there were 360 abortions, less than one a day.
Q: What is the secret of low abortions in Poland? Is the law applied more rigorously, or is the culture of life stronger?
Zieba: I don't know exactly what the situation is in Spain. What I can say is that Polish society is pro-life. We have reached this objective thanks to decades of prayer and works of apostolate, also carried out during Communist domination. Within the structures of the Catholic Church, we have engaged in intense activity in defense of the life of the unborn.
This apostolic action was intensified thanks to the activity of several lay movements and organizations that were formed after the decline of Communism in Poland, beginning in 1989.
With the end of censure, we were able to distribute educational material on the value of the life of boys and girls from conception. We explained how to reduce the damage of post abortion syndrome and we have made known the true history of the legalization of abortion in Europe and Poland.
The first to legalize abortion in our country were the Nazis in March of 1943. They wanted to eliminate Poles with abortion. Then the Communists arrived, and they began their dictatorship with the promulgation of the abortion law of April 27, 1956.
For many Poles, especially young people, these events should trigger reflection and the realization that abortion was legalized, imposed and practiced in Poland by their enemies: the Nazis and the Communists.
In this context, the books, pamphlets and booklets on abortion, distributed in churches, schools and streets, have had a profound impact on Polish society.
In this connection, the teachings of John Paul II on the protection of human life from conception to natural death have been invaluable and decisive for the situation in Poland.
Q: How has civil society responded to this awareness-building campaign?
Zieba: Article 38 of the Polish Constitution states: "The Republic of Poland ensures the legal protection of the life of every human being." Some Polish parliamentarians presented a petition requesting the addition of the phrase "from conception until natural death."
Unfortunately, the Lower House of Parliament rejected the petition, but according to polls carried out by PGB -- Polka Grupa Badawcza, the best research center on public opinion, 52% of Poles are in favor of reinforcing the defense of life in the Constitution, while 35% are opposed.
More than 506,000 people signed in support of the petition, while less than 2,000 expressed their disapproval.
Q: You are the secretary of World Prayer for Life. What tasks does this pro-life association engage in?
Zieba: Speaking of the protection of life, mention must be made of the great and decisive part played by prayer.
In Poland, a mass movement of prayer and spiritual adoption of the unborn has developed -- a real crusade for the protection of the conceived. These prayers have changed the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens and reinforced respect for life.
World Prayer for Life promotes the spiritual adoption of conceived children. The movement was born in 1980, when we were still under Communist domination.
The idea of prayer for the unborn was inspired directly by the Servant of God Pope John Paul II, during his trip to Poland on June 7, 1979.
At the Marian shrine of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, the Holy Father made an important speech in which he requested prayers for the unborn, explaining that man does not live by bread alone, and that there must always be a group of people who pray to the Lord.
Q: How many Polish pro-life associations are there? How do they coordinate? What is their relationship with the Catholic Church? What social aid tasks do they undertake?
Zieba: In Poland there are around 160 pro-life organizations, foundations and informal groups; they are active in the protection of mothers and children.
The Polish Federation of Pro Life Movements is presided over by Dr. [Pawel] Wosicki and brings together some 130 organizations and groups.
Cooperation between the Federation and the Catholic Church is splendid. Meetings between lay leaders, bishops and priests are frequent. At present, the federation has no relationships with non-Catholic Churches.
Q: At the recent meeting of the European Pro-Life Movements, which took place in Rome, you proposed the establishment of a Pro Life Day on a world scale, precisely on March 25, dedicating it to prayer for life. Can you explain further the meaning and purpose of your proposal?
Zieba: Prayer is the cornerstone of good actions. In the encyclical "Evangelium Vitae," the Servant of God John Paul II wrote that a great pro-life prayer is urgent that will go across the whole world. This prayer should be made throughout the year, but I am convinced that March 25, feast of the Incarnation -- of Jesus' conception in Mary's body -- must become a world day of prayer for the defense of life.
Pro-Life Day is already observed in several countries on different dates. I propose making March 25 the World Day for the Protection of Life, but without giving up the national Pro-Life Day.
This day -- on which the whole world prays, reflects and engages in the apostolate for the unconditional protection of the life of every person, from conception until natural death -- might represent a day of unity for all pro-life protagonists and for men and women of good will.
Q: The idea has already been presented among several pro-life movements to appeal to all countries and international institutions to have at least one day without abortions, specifically March 25.
Zieba: This is a great idea. We will support this proposal and collect signatures in a petition addressed to Polish authorities, asking them to support this proposal when it is presented to the United Nations.
The collection of signatures is a good occasion to remind everyone that unborn children are human beings protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which in article three states that every individual has a right to life, liberty and the security of his own person.
Q: While in Europe there is an abortion every 27 seconds and a divorce every 30, in Poland abortion and divorce are minimal. However, a certain relativist culture, very influential in European institutions, is pressuring Poland to promote radical socialist legislation. What can you say in this regard?
Zieba: Poland was the first country in the world to reject, democratically, a law allowing abortion, and to introduce one that protects human life from conception. And yet, several organizations, such as the United Nations and the European Union, are pressuring Poland to change its abortion law.
These pressures are triggering objections and disagreements on the part of the people that, especially among the eldest, remember that the first abortion law was imposed by the Nazis, and the second was promulgated by the Communist dictatorship.
How can Poland be asked to restore a law in favor of abortion, imposed by the two worst dictatorships of the 20th century?
This demand is, moreover, unacceptable if one thinks that in the 15 years of the application of the pro-life law there have been optimum results. The number of abortions remains at a very low level, 360 in 2006, while in the 90s the number of abortions recorded was 100,000 a year, and during the years of Communist dictatorship it is estimated that the total number of abortions was over 600,000 a year.
Pregnant women's health is constantly improving, with the consequent decrease in death from childbirth. Infant mortality and the number of miscarriages are constantly decreasing
Why change a law that functions so well?