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Mission Aborted

Few will find this surprising, but not everyone is applauding Poland’s recent admission to the European Union, which will take effect next year. One commentator posed this provocative question on a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Sunday morning religion program: what will the Dutch do when thousands of Poles, “every one of them more Catholic than the Pope,” reach the shores of the promised lowlands looking for work? The question was ironic given that just a few days later the Dutch invaded the shores of Poland. Allow me to explain.

For the first half of this year (and well before) Poland was engaged in a spirited debate about the desirability of joining the European Union. Some conservative Poles, led by the influential Radio Marya, campaigned against EU membership, fearing that Brussels would impose on Poland regulations concerning moral and religious issues, including mandatory liberalization of Poland’s abortion restrictions. Though the Euroskeptics were often dismissed as paranoid on this issue, the European parliament did in fact float a resolution last year calling on all member states entering in 2004 fully to legalize abortion.

Poland, at the urging of the Catholic Church in the former Soviet-bloc country, successfully lobbied for a special provision, similar to one granted to Ireland, that safeguards the country’s abortion laws against interference from Brussels—at least for the immediate future. But that’s not all that’s made Poles skeptical about assimilating into Europa. There’s another proposal now drifting through the European parliament that’s making Euroskeptic Poles seasick. This one promises to provide aid via the UN Population Fund to bring free abortions to women of developing nations, the latest form of western imperialism—in short, exporting the culture of death.

Critics from veteran EU countries, for their part, have been busy questioning Poland’s “suitability” to join its privileged ranks but not so much on economic grounds. Rather, they were wary of the country’s traditional leanings on moral issues. During Poland’s Soviet era, abortion was available on demand and, in effect, used as a means of birth control. In 1993, Poland banned abortion, though it allows for certain exceptions such as in cases where the mother’s life is endangered or when pregnancy is a result of rape or incest.

Above all, Poland’s critics accuse the country—both its government and its culture—of being too much under the influence of traditional Christianity, primarily via the Catholic Church. Consider this telling comment from Clare Murphy of London’s BBC: “Here [in Poland], the Catholic Church, which had stood as a symbol of opposition under communism, rose high on a wave of popularity in the early 1990s and managed to push its aggressively anti-abortion, anti-contraception stance onto the mainstream political agenda.” Critics like Murphy would much prefer to see the homeland of John Paul II evolve into a liberal, secular state adrift in a moral morass like, say, the United Kingdom or the Netherlands.Enter Women on Waves. The Dutch abortion advocacy group operates the world’s only floating abortion clinic. Run out of a converted East German tugboat called the Langenort, the abortion ship’s millennium ministry seeks to spread its doctrine of “free abortions” throughout Europe. According to Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, a former Greenpeace activist who heads the group of seafaring abortion campaigners, Women on Waves performs its missionary function by sailing to countries where abortion is illegal in order to offer “early medical abortions.”This summer, just two weeks after the Polish referendum sent the country sailing Brussels-bound, Women on Waves sent forth the Langenort to proselytize the Poles by dropping anchor at the Baltic seaport of Wladyslawowo. Some astute observers commented that sending the abortion ship to the shores of Poland smacked of patronizing neo-colonialism.

The Dutch abortion ship, staffed with a female crew and captain, was designed to circumnavigate Polish law by enticing pregnant mothers to book passage on what Women on Waves calls a “sexual workshop cruise.” Even after weeks of intense recruitment by the Dutch liberators, only 11 Polish women answered the call. (Women on Waves claimed that Polish women were just dying to abort their children.) The Polish women were taken 12 miles out to sea into international waters where Dutch law then took effect. (Holland has the most permissive laws on a wide range of social issues, including abortion, of all EU nations.) Moored and bobbing in the Baltic, the women were given RU-486 in order to induce spontaneous abortions of their unwanted children—all this said to be licensed by the Dutch Health Ministry.

Though Women on Waves was angling for a major publicity stunt that would shame the Polish government in front of its future EU sister nations, the Dutch abortion ship’s efforts were overshadowed by a series of sometimes comic mishaps. First, on its way across the Baltic, the tugboat had to contend with Mother Nature who seemed content to harass the Dutch abortion zealots not a little. Stormy seas kept the boat offshore, delaying its long-hyped arrival at the Polish fishing port.When the Langenort finally made its initial approach to Wladyslawowo it was chased by playful Poles in a motor boat, an act that the sailing Dutchwomen found “intimidating” and “aggressive” but that most everyone else recognized as nothing short of farcical. Once at harbor, the Langenort failed to identify itself properly to Polish authorities. The harbormaster at Wladyslawowo accused the Langenort of disregarding his warnings and said that the crew aboard the abortion ship failed to abide by even the most basic laws. Docked illegally at Wladyslawowo, Women on Waves was fined $3,150 for its rogue vessel.The Dutch abortion ship made waves upon its arrival in other ways too. For one, the Langenort crew was greeted by police and customs officials who boarded the boat and sealed their stash of abortion pills in order to prevent their distribution in Poland, where they are illegal. More notably the Langenort was met at the quayside by 200 protesters who reportedly hailed the unwelcome vessel with red paint and eggs. (A few of the protestors, obviously with a sense of humor, later released a bucketful of rodents onto the ship while it was docked at port.) Consequently, the Polish welcome wagon was vilified by mainstream European media outlets as “angry,” “fierce,” “irate,” “outraged,” “abusive,” and “insulting.” They were labeled “ultra-conservative” and “reactionary.”

Given the extraordinary situation—after all, an unwelcome boat was launched from a foreign land to dock in Poland for the express purpose of subverting the country’s laws—is their righteous indignation not understandable and justified, even healthy? Women on Waves unapologetically trumpeted their intentions across Europe even before the Langenort put to sea. Consequently, the Polish protestors saw the voyage for what it was: an invasion. After all, by their own admission, the Dutch abortion missionaries had arrived looking to put blood on their hands—Polish blood!The visit by the Langenort also predictably angered Church leaders in the largely Catholic country. “We must not let criminals enter our territorial waters and perform crimes on our children,” exhorted Archbishop Tadeusz Goclowski of Gdansk during a Mass the week before the Dutch arrived. He described the boat crew’s objective as “killing Poles.”

Judging from its own propaganda, Women on Waves seems to have crafted its Polish campaign precisely to elicit strong reactions from Catholic leaders like Archbishop Goclowski. Abortion advocate Wanda Nowicka, who helped facilitate the Dutch group’s abortion mission to her native land, admitted to reporters that she believes the Catholic Church is exactly what’s wrong with Poland. The “Church exerts too much influence in Poland,” she told reporters. “All I can hope for is that when we join the European Union we become a more secular society.”After Women on Wave’s Polish mission was completed, Dr. Gomperts declared it a success, telling London’s Telegraph, “[W]e have managed to put the abortion issue back on the political agenda [in Poland].” Margie Moore of the Feminist Majority Foundation, a U.S.-based abortion advocacy group, hailed the Polish mission an “historical voyage.” She gleefully confirmed that a “licensed gynecologist and nurse from the Netherlands performed examinations on the [Polish] women and administered mifepristone (RU-486),” the result of which was the death of 11 unborn Polish babies.Moore, who worked with Langenort’s crew and abortion advocates in the Netherlands before the ship set sail for Poland, also assisted Women on Wave’s 2001 seafaring abortion mission to Ireland. “Unfortunately,” the American abortion zealot lamented, “we weren’t able to administer RU-486 to women in Ireland, so this [Polish voyage] is an historic occasion.”In an interview with London’s Guardian, Bert Dorenbos of the Dutch pro-life group Cry for Life, summed up the situation this way: “In the past the Dutch have been missionaries for good, but now we are missionaries for evil.”

Michael S. Rose is the author of four books including the New York Times best-seller Goodbye, Good Men. His latest book, Priest, was published this month by Sophia Institute Press.

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