Polish bishops fight referendum on abortion ban

May 03, 1991|By Kay Withers | Kay Withers,Special to The Sun

WARSAW, Poland -- Poland's Roman Catholic bishops proclaimed yesterday that a popular referendum to decide the fate of abortion here was "inadmissible."

"There are values which cannot be put to a popular vote," the bishops' communique said.

The subject of abortion dominated a plenary meeting of Poland's bishops, attended also by clergymen from Czechoslovakia and Lithuania, Russia and the Ukraine, France, Germany and England.

The bishops, in a country nominally 90 percent Catholic, have strongly promoted a bill to ban abortion except where the mother's life is in danger. All other terminations of pregnancy, including those following rape or incest or involving a severely malformed fetus, would be punishable by up to two years in jail.

Parliament is due to consider the bill in mid-May, when it also is expected to rule on calls for a referendum to decide the matter.

The church, especially in the conservative countryside, mounted a massive letter-writing campaign in support of the bill. But opinion polls show opposition to the ban running at about 60 percent.

With contraceptives scarce, abortion is the main form of birth control in Poland, where an estimated 600,000 to 1.5 million pregnancies are terminated annually. The church also opposes contraceptive devices, and one version of the new bill includes a ban on intrauterine devices.

The three-day meeting also repeated the church's position that , ,TC new Polish constitution should eliminate the present concept of the separation of church and state. "The postwar principle of the separation of church and state led in practice to painful consequences," the communique said.

The bishops also praised the reintroduction of religious instruction in state schools and said they expected the new scholastic year to bring legislation "guaranteeing full respect for Christian values in the instruction and upbringing of the young generation."

This and similar positions have evoked unprecedented accusations that the hierarchy is attempting theocratic rule. The church has dropped from first to third place in the opinion polls, behind the army and the government, and it leads the list of institutions that Poles consider too powerful.

The bishops cited "signs of aversion to the church" but attributed them to the designs of enemies such as former Communists who "neglect the spiritual measure of man."

The news media came in for a tongue-lashing for giving "an artificial, disproportionate coverage . . . to opinions hostile to the church."

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