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SHOULD THE STATE CONTROL THE BIRTH RATE?

No, it can't be legislated

lovakia, along with other countries of central and, in particular, western Europe, is experiencing an alarming decline in its birth rate. This trend is being studied by experts, but so far the public has not been sufficiently informed about the problem. And the little that has filtered through has left people indifferent to the issue. The Roman Catholic church has begun to direct the media's attention to the problem recently, aware of concerns about the "extinction of the nation." These worries are shared by the experts, but the Church's views on possible solutions to the problem deserve further comment.



lovakia, along with other countries of central and, in particular, western Europe, is experiencing an alarming decline in its birth rate. This trend is being studied by experts, but so far the public has not been sufficiently informed about the problem. And the little that has filtered through has left people indifferent to the issue. The Roman Catholic church has begun to direct the media's attention to the problem recently, aware of concerns about the "extinction of the nation." These worries are shared by the experts, but the Church's views on possible solutions to the problem deserve further comment.

In the 1960s the Romanian dictator, Nikolai Ceausescu, declared that the importance of his nation must be raised, explaining that this must be achieved by increasing the population. He banned all sale or promotion of contraception, forbade sterilization and artificial termination of pregnancy, and outlawed the dissemination of information on the control of human fertility. All those breaching his laws were severely punished. The subsequent events in Romania are now regarded by the UN's UNFPA and WHO agencies as the most frightening examples of population management by governmental decree. Instead of the expected increase in the birth rate, deaths of women as a result of illegal abortions increased, and unwanted, newborn children were found murdered in dustbins.

The prime minister of our own state has been making similar statements recently, claiming that there are too few Slovaks, and that it would be good for their number to rise to seven million. Although he has made no mention of the measures he would use to reach this figure, it is clear that a "central ruling" is under consideration. The musings of an authoritative prime minister and the emotive arguments emanating from the Church are combining to cause serious fears over family planning legislation. After all, besides the Romanian way of dealing with population development, other methods exist, such as those in Ireland and Poland, that have satisfied the demands of the Church. But these have neither led to the moral advancement of the countries involved nor increased the birth rate - they have merely given rise to "abortion tourism," to the murder of unwanted infants and, as noted at the UN by representatives of several Polish feminist organizations, to several deaths from illegal terminations.

Slovakia, so far, has had no experience of the Romanian and the Polish models of state policy on the issue, and so lacks a sufficient level of ideological opposition to these fundamental religious views, which appear to be protecting unborn life, but are in effect suppressing women's rights. The Church's position is the protection of a dogma - the miracle of life, where God, not man, has the right to decide on the fate of new life, regardless of the conditions which await the child upon its arrival into the world. For the Church, this dogma is more important than the risks of illegal abortions, abortion tourism, murdered newly-born children and the problems of unwanted, often tortured babies.

Proponents of the Church line are not afraid to distort UN statistics, turning the arguments of the UN philosophy's defenders on their head and accusing them of promoting abortion. The idea of the planned family, which emerged from the work of the UN, is an attempt to reduce the number of abortions, not by banning the practice, but by introducing sex education into schools, implementing social measures, promoting contraception, changing legislation and improving access to sterilization. Population growth can never be achieved by restrictions and injunctions.

Dr. Michal Kliment is a gynecologist and the director of an NGO promoting Family Planning.

Instead of the expected increase in the birth rate, deaths of women as a result of illegal abortions increased, and unwanted, newborn children were found murdered in dustbins.

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