Warsaw, Poland (LifeNews/CFAM) — European and American pro-life academics and practitioners gathered late last month at the University of Warsaw for a conference on the “Intellectual Foundations and Legal Means for the Protection of Human Life in the Prenatal Phase.” The event was under the High Honorary Patronage of Her Royal Highness the Grand Duchess of Luxemburg, the Honorary Patronage by His Highness Paul, Duke of Oldenburg, and Poland’s Minister of Justice, Dr. Jaroslaw Gowin.
Organized by Poland’s Ordo Iuris Legal Centre and The Rule of Law Institute, the conference had its genesis in last year’s narrow defeat of a citizen initiative “civic bill” that would have eliminated exceptions to Poland’s general prohibition of abortion. Ordo Iuris’ Aleksander Stępkowski, a law professor at the Law Faculty University of Warsaw and a principalorganizer of the conference, discerned that there was a need to educate legislators and the public on the importance of protecting life “at all stages of development, as abortion appears to be only the first step towards denying of the protection of life also to those already born but somehow dependent person.”
A number of presentations concerned the status of pre-natal life under Polish domestic legislation and constitutional jurisprudence. Olgierd Pankiewicz tackled an article of the penal law, which allows for abortion in cases of disability or fetal abnormality: “The very premise of the law – the law’s reaction to illness and suffering … – is evidently eugenic.”
The discriminatory nature of eugenic abortion makes the exception ripe for repeal.
Indeed, following last year’s failure at broad reform of the existing legislation, pro-life legislators in the Sejm, Poland’s parliament, have narrowed efforts to focus on eliminating eugenic abortion during the present legislative session. In an important vote this past week, the reform bill passed by a wide 18-vote margin to the next stage, where it will be debated within committee before being brought for a vote by the entire lower house.
Although the conference’s concern with Polish legal developments was evident, a comparative law approach ensured that papers generated would have application beyond the borders of Poland. Presenters addressed legal developments affecting the right to life in Germany, Hungary, Austria, and the United States.
One of the themes explored involved the interplay between domestic law and constitutions protective of life and transnationalist “soft law” norms, which are often cited by abortion activists as requiring abortion liberalization. Nikolas Nikas of the Bioethics Defense Fund introduced a panel on international law which featured Jane Adolphe of Ave Maria University, Stefano Gennarini of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM, publisher of the Friday Fax) and Alliance Defending Freedom’s Piero Tozzi.
Another presenter was Francisco Javier Borrego Borrego, a former member of the European Court of Human Rights. Judge Borrego is well-known in Polish legal circles for his hard-hitting dissent in Tysiąc v. Poland, which concerned a “therapeutic” abortion allegedly necessary to save a woman’s eyesight. To reach the desired result, the politicized majority disregarded a record where eight experts had determined that deterioration in the woman’s eyesight was unrelated to her pregnancy, crediting the opinion of one general practitioner who counseled abortion and determining that Poland had violated privacy rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Such results-oriented judicial activism by supranational courts elevates subordinate rights over truly fundamental ones, ultimately undermining the rule of law. The Warsaw conference sought to reorient the debate by refocusing on the basis for true human dignity, recalling that without respect for the right to life, no other rights are secure.
LifeNews.com Note: Piero Tozzi, J.D. writes for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. This article originally appeared in the pro-life group’s Friday Fax publication.