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Ukrainian Refugees Are Being Met With Fliers Saying ‘More People Killed By Abortion’ Than War

Polish religious groups are unhelpfully telling newly escaped refugees that abortion is in fact "the greatest threat to peace."

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Church-goers attend a prayer for “unborn lives” at Poland’s Jasna Góra monastery amid its “pilgrimage of pro-life activists.”
Church-goers attend a prayer for “unborn lives” at Poland’s Jasna Góra monastery amid its “pilgrimage of pro-life activists.”
Screenshot: @JasnaGoraNews/Twitter

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last month, millions of refugees have fled the country, and the majority have crossed the border to Poland. There, anti-abortion groups and religious leaders are reportedly meeting them with pamphlets warning that “abortion is the greatest threat to peace,” and more “people are killed as a result of abortion” than war. As of this weekend, the United Nations estimates that close to 900 Ukrainian civilians have now been killed in the war.

Poland’s most prominent Catholic shrine, Jasna Góra monastery in Częstochowa, announced over the weekend that it was hosting a “pilgrimage of pro-life activists”—because, as Wojciech Zięba, president of the Polish Association of the Defenders of Human Life, told the Catholic Information Agency, “the cruelty of war” shouldn’t obscure how “the world still divides children into ‘wanted’ and ‘unwanted.’”

In another flier distributed to refugees at the border, Poland’s Life and Family Foundation claims, “If a mother is allowed to kill her own child, what will stop you or me from killing each other?”

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Last year, Poland enacted a near-total abortion ban that criminalizes and imprisons those who provide or have abortions. In contrast, abortion is legal and freely accessible in Ukraine, prompting some reproductive rights activists in Poland to share educational materials to displaced Ukrainian refugees about how to safely access abortion upon entering the country. One Polish group, called Abortion Dream Team, explained in a Facebook post that distributing this information to refugees is important because wartime displacement can very understandably prompt more people to seek abortion. War also creates a disturbing uptick in sexual violence, which is already happening in Ukraine, likely increasing unwanted pregnancies caused by rape.

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Predictably enough, this benign distribution of educational materials
about abortion access to refugees has prompted the Polish Association of the Defenders of Human Life to claim on social media that “one of the first things that is offered to [refugees] after crossing the border is the abortion of their own child.”

As if losing loved ones and watching your home be destroyed by war wasn’t devastating enough, Ukrainian refugees who enter Poland are being bombarded with anti-abortion propaganda that minimized their experiences with displacement and equates war in their homeland with a basic healthcare service.

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All of this, of course, is on top of the fact that upon taking refuge in Ukraine, pregnant refugees and possible survivors of wartime sexual violence are essentially losing their most fundamental human rights. Despite Polish anti-abortion activists’ particularly ghoulish claims that abortion kills more people than war, since Poland’s abortion ban took effect, at least two Polish women have died from pregnancy-related complications, because doctors fearing criminalization refused to provide life-saving abortion care.

Last November, one woman named Iza died of pregnancy complications, prompting Poland’s health ministry to issue a guidance that said if the pregnant person’s life or health is at risk, doctors “must not be afraid of making obvious decisions” about abortions. Despite this guidance, another Polish woman died in a hospital in Częstochowa earlier this year, shortly after being forced to carry a dead fetus for over a week because doctors, again fearing criminalization, wouldn’t perform an essential abortion.

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Because of Poland’s abortion ban, people experiencing pregnancy complications, miscarriage, or stillbirth have reason to fear seeking medical help, as they could be accused of having an abortion and thus face criminal charges—not unlike a trend we’ve increasingly come to see in the U.S. The abortion ban is especially dangerous now that Poland’s health ministry has announced a centralized, digitized registry. The registry, which mirrors some U.S. abortion laws, requires doctors to report all pregnancies and miscarriages to the government, amounting to state surveillance of all pregnant people and possible criminal punishment for those suspected of inducing their own abortion.

Ukrainian refugees fleeing war in their homeland have enough on their plates. The last thing they or any refugees should have to worry about is a “pro-life” pilgrimage in a country with an abortion ban that’s killing pregnant women.