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The doctor, who seemed surprisingly young, took the students on a short tour of his wards and then invited questions. Ania asked about abortion trends. 'The first thing to say is that this is a very Catholic country. We had high birth rates throughout the socialist period, especially in rural areas. Abortion was rare for villagers, but for the urban population it was routinely available - almost like an additional means of contraception, you might say. When communism collapsed abortion policy became a political football. Most of our political parties heed the policy of the Church and oppose it, although there is evidence that the majority of women would like to see it available as it was up to now, in other words a matter for individual consciences. You can privatise everything in this country, but not religion. So, we perform very few abortions here - basically, only in cases of grave threat to the life of the mother.'
Tom asked about surrogates. 'We had a case recently in which the surrogate, who had been paid a substantial sum for agreeing to carry a child for a woman who could not do so herself, though the fertilised egg was hers, decided after the baby was born that she wished to keep the child. I'm afraid the case is still before the courts. We are aware of many complications that have arisen elsewhere from new reproductive technologies. Human beings and their body parts cannot be treated like ordinary market commodities. The biggest difference in this country is the power of the Church to influence public opinion. Indeed, many doctors and nurses are themselves practising Catholics who feel an obligation to follow the teaching of their Church, however difficult they find it in certain cases.'
Ania and Tom raised the subject later on that evening in Maria's flat. 'It's quite easy in practice,' said Maria. There was a girl on my course at the university who became pregnant in her first term. Her doctor referred her to a friend of his in Slovakia, or perhaps it was in Germany. Anyway, provided you've got the money, there's no problem.'
Wlodek pointed out that Poland's population, after decades of mostly rapid increase, had recently begin to decline. He thought this was because many more people were studying at university than had been able to under communism. They were therefore delaying marriage and having offspring. In other words, the demopgraphy of Poland was becoming much more like that of the developed countries of Europe and less like that of poor countries in the south. He thought that this convergence with western Europe showed that social factors were the prime determinants of population trends, since in cultural terms Poland was still quite far removed from western norms, as evidenced in the role of the church in promoting the postcommunist abortion legislation.
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