WARSAW, Poland — As Poland’s Catholic Church prepares to celebrate 1,050 years as the national faith, a call by its bishops for a ban on abortion has embroiled the church in a divisive debate.
The church that was crucial in preserving the nation’s spirit and identity in World War II and under decades of communism has now provoked massive street protests.
“In this jubilee year of Poland’s baptism, we urge all people of goodwill, believers and nonbelievers, to take action to ensure full legal protection of unborn lives,” the bishops said.
The climate seems favorable for tightening Poland’s anti-abortion law, already one of Europe’s strictest, because power is held by a conservative government whose members say they are Catholic and follow the bishops’ teachings. Some 90 percent of Poles declare themselves as Catholics. The ruling Law and Justice party won presidential and parliamentary elections last year largely due to the church’s support.
The call for an unconditional abortion ban has met resistance.
“We believe that Poland should be spared from that debate and from its consequences,” said Grzegorz Schetyna, an opposition leader. “We can see an atmosphere that will lead to new street protests and referendum initiatives.”
The government has reacted cautiously. Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said it is not preparing legislation on abortion, and said it would be “bad if an issue so sensitive and important became an element of political struggle.”
Some government policies converge with the bishops’ views: a program funding in-vitro fertilization, that has led to some 3,600 births, will be closed in July, and government subsidies are to be scrapped for the “morning-after” pill.
The homeland of the late pope St. John Paul II celebrates the anniversary this week with prayers at the 10th century Gothic Cathedral of Gniezno and a parliament session. Ceremonies planned by the government and the church will stress Poland’s Catholic identity.