By Jonathon Van Maren
Once again, Amnesty International is pushing back against pro-life laws in Europe—and this time, Slovakia is the target. Parliamentarians in Slovakia are considering amendments to the current abortion regime, including extended waiting periods as well as a new layer of medical authorization for abortion and requirements for disclosure of motive. The amendments, proposed by a group of MPs led by Anna Záborská of the conservative wing of the ruling OĽaNO, passed into the second reading in parliament prior to the summer break. Abortion activists have organized protests, and over 100 NGOs have pushed back, including Human Rights Watch and the Women Global Network for Reproductive Rights.
The impressive growth of Slovakia’s pro-life movement has gone largely unnoticed, but their impact is being felt. Last autumn when I visited Vienna to speak at the Austrian March for Life and Pro-Europe’s youth conference (with pro-lifers from Slovakia in attendance), I headed down the Danube to Bratislava for a day. Hanging on the tower of an ancient church looming over one cobblestone alleyway was a beautiful poster of a little girl running through a green meadow, followed by other children. The top of the poster featured a heart with two tiny baby’s feet inside it. When I asked a passerby what the poster represented, he explained that there had recently been a large March for Life in Slovakia. I checked the details online when I stopped for a cup of coffee, and found that some weeks earlier, a staggering crowd of well over 50,000 people had marched against abortion and for pre-born human rights in Bratislava.
To find out more about the Slovakian pro-life movement, one of my friends at Pro-Life Europe put me in touch with Tomáš Kováčik, president of the Association for Life and Family and one of Slovakia’s most passionate pro-lifers. He kindly agreed to answer a few questions about the burgeoning movement in his country.
How did you get involved in the pro-life movement, and what is your role?
I believe the roots of my pro-life involvement come from my childhood – my mom always helped others even when she did not have much in her pocket. Sometimes our family was in debt, but it did not stop my mom helping others if she could. Thus the hunger of African children and the poverty of people and injustice always bothered me. I started to be active in the pro-life movement during my university studies. I believe the billboards with aborted babies definitely awakened me and I started to learn more about this huge injustice. I wrote many blogs and afterwards I was invited to the 1st National March for Life organization team in 2013 where I became a spokesperson (at that time it was the biggest public gathering since the fall of communism in Slovakia). Currently, due to problems of financing such activities in Slovakia, I am doing pro-life and pro-family activism and lobbying as a volunteer in my free time. I started an NGO named Association for Life and Family. Its main activity is organizing a competition for all elementary and high school students named “Family and the Basic Human Right to Life” (students and pupils draw pictures and create videos and we give them nice prizes – cameras, laptops, books, weekend stays at nice places for their families etc.). We also do pro-life and pro-family lobbying to MPs. Sometimes I run common initiatives, write letters and invite other organizations to them.
What is the status quo in Slovakia with regard to abortion?
Unfortunately, even after 30 years after the fall of communism, abortion is allowed in Slovakia up to 12 weeks without giving any reason. Unfortunately, our constitutional court in 2007 decided that the abortions are legal despite the fact that our Constitution in Art. 1, 2. states: “Everyone has the right to life. Human life is worth of protection even before birth.” In the same decision the court denied longer period for abortions of disabled babies which were legal up to 24 weeks. However, some “doctors” ignore this decision and kill even big babies due to the suspicion of a disability.
How does the public view abortion?
Anytime the topic is opened in the society (e.g. in parliament) there is huge outrage and hysteria from “liberal” and progressive media and politicians. Fortunately, there are MPs who bring proposals to change the abortion status quo, mainly in the last couple of years. I hope this ‘strategy of waves‘ will be successful and this 62-year-old law of shame will be changed. As a milestone, we want to follow the Polish model where abortions are illegal except in special cases. Furthermore, we want to protect all mothers and their babies.
To come to the question of public opinion on abortions, it depends on the question you ask in polls. Most Slovak people are not in favour with abortions performed due to social problems of the family or performed without any reason. Most people see the abortion as a so-called handbrake for “special situations.” However, most of our politicians are quite shy on this topic and are afraid of attacks coming from media.
To be honest, I think the situation in public is worsening, thus we need to change the law as soon as possible. Again, due to the lack of finances we cannot make big campaigns which would mostly change young generation’s views. Our marches for life are big mostly thanks to their main organizer – Conference of Bishops of Slovakia (Catholics). Without this, the participation would be much smaller. However, the marches are not annual, they are organized rather few months before elections and in the meantime we work only on social media.
How did the pro-life movement begin?
I am 36 years old, thus I wasn’t there with older initiatives. However, as far as I know even during communist era there was a pro-life petition organized which needed much courage. After the regime changed, there have been different pro-life organizations formed, the biggest one is named Forum for Life and it brings together dozens of organizations and individuals. However, lobbying of our organizations is very weak. There are not many initiatives which we would do together and thus strengthen our voice and pressure. As I recently wrote in a blog – help to mothers in need who consider abortion should go hand in hand with change of shameful law that discriminates on basis of age. Unfortunately, there are pro-life organizations in Slovakia which do not fight for law change.
What is the pro-life movement doing now?
There has been a government change a few months ago and some ministers are our friends and share our values. I am trying to talk to politicians to bring measures that would help families live better lives. In my free time I am trying to do pro-life activities on social media etc. I also created a website called “The price of abortion” with which I try to “catch” women googling abortion and I give them facts about abortion (e.g. possibilities of physical and psychical health issues, organizations offering help for them etc.) I also know about a website focusing on problems of IVF which describes the risks for women and their babies. Other organizations offer practical help (zachranmezivoty.sk) and helpline for women seeking abortion or to those who suffer after abortion (alexisporadna.sk). Fortunately, God always sends some active people who dedicate their life to pro-life cause.
What is the most difficult task ahead?
The most difficult task is to find a strong politician(s) who will defend unborn babies from his/her heart. And to change the law to abolish abortions which are performed without giving any reason. We also want to change hearts of people so the abortions won’t even come to anyone’s mind as a “solution” in any situation. In order to do this, we need to keep spreading our messages on social media and also, for example, on billboards. And we also need to change hearts and give courage to the doctors so they refuse to kill the smallest people. Even though we work with money very effectively, we need sponsors for all of this.
How do you see the future unfolding for the pro-life movement?
As a Catholic, I always have hope. Even though we would need many more commited activists, politicians, people in offices, more money etc., I know that these are God’s fights and He knows when and what is the best. We have desires in our hearts that come from Him. We just offer our hands, time, money, everything… so He can do what He wants. Everything for God’s glory!