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Thursday, July 5, 2007

Prolife and Prochoice: A Chance to Work Together (Part One)

Now in her late 30s, Alicja Tysiac is a Polish citizen and single mother of three children. She has had eye disease since she was a young girl, and thus difficulty finding employment and (as far as I can determine) state-of-the-art preventive medical care.

In February 2000, through contraceptive failure, she became unexpectedly pregnant with her third and youngest child. Doctors told her that the pregnancy might cause her to go blind. She then sought an abortion (legal in Poland for health reasons).

Her doctors at the public hospital declined to perform the abortion. I don't know if, after declining to perform the abortion, they offered her the utmost help for her and her child during and after the pregnancy. If they didn't, they utterly, miserably failed their responsibilities towards these two vulnerable human beings, and Tysiac's other children as well.

After giving birth to her daughter, Tysiac had a retinal hemorrhage, and now she can see only five feet (one and a half meters) in front of her. She brought a case before the European Court of Human Rights, which on March 20, 2007 ruled that she was entitled to 25,000 Euros (roughly 33,000 USD) in damages from the Polish government.

The Polish government has just appealed the decision, which means that Tysiac may not receive the compensation, or at least not for some years. Meanwhile, she and her three children continue in their chronic, longstanding poverty--like so many other single-mother families and disabled-parent families in Poland and around the world.

Whether you believe the case and the court ruling are just or unjust, whether or not you believe she had a right to abortion that was violated or that her child had a right to live...I hope we can all agree that Alicja Tysiac and her children, like any other human beings, deserve to be free of the chronic, longstanding poverty they are stuck in...and that each of us is responsible for their lives and well-being, just as we are for all human beings in parallel situations.

Tysiac is now classified as totally unemployable. In a tiny Warsaw apartment, she struggles to take care of herself and her three children on a state disability pension of 140 Euros--roughly 190 USD.

By comparison, the monthly per capita income (average income per person) in Poland is a little less than 1200 USD.

All the same, or so I have heard....the wife of a prominent Polish politician branded Alicja Tysiac an inherently unfit mother for seeking an abortion in her desperate situation---even said that Tysiac's children should be taken away from her.

Whatever different positions we may each take on abortion or on the justice/injustice of Tysiac's case before the European Court, I hope people of all views can at least agree on the following.

  • Alicja Tysiac and her three children need and deserve at the very least a living wage, life-saving and life-enhancing medical care, and access to all the other social supports they each require to live and to develop to their fullest possible potentials. All disabled persons, single mothers, and their families need and deserve the same.

  • Many, many women, just like Alicja did, contemplate abortion because they are in very difficult circumstances where they honestly--and understandably-- feel they have no other or better choice. It is wrong and cruel to scapegoat and point the finger at women like Alicja. A far more constructive response would be to channel that sense of outrage into fighting poverty, ableism, health care inequity, and stigmatizing discrimination against single mothers--which after all are major causes of abortion. Comprehensive public commitment to relief of these problems will help to prevent abortion, whatever law or ethics say about it.


    Whether you are prochoice, prolife, or none of the above on abortion: I hope you are moved to help Alicja Tysiac and her children, and other people in similar straits. In a forthcoming post I will offer some positive steps that you can take to do just that.

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