Polish leader blames women who consume alcohol for low birth rate

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The leader of Poland’s ruling party has sparked outrage in the country and an explosion of jokes by claiming that the country’s low birth rate is partly caused by excessive alcohol consumption by young women.

Opposition politicians and many other critics have accused Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a 73-year-old lifelong bachelor, of being out of touch. They also claim that Kaczynski, the most powerful politician in Poland since 2015, is himself partly responsible for the low birth rate in the central European country of 38 million people.

Critics point in particular to restrictions on abortion that have discouraged some women from wanting to get pregnant. Others note the difficulty young people have in raising a family due to rising costs in a country where inflation is now nearly 18%.

Kaczynski, leader of the populist ruling Pravo i Pravda party, made his remarks over the weekend as he travels the country seeking support for his party ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections.

On Saturday, Kaczynski spoke to the crowd about the demographic challenge of having “too few children.”

“Here, too, it is sometimes necessary to openly say some bitter things. If, for example, the situation remains such that until the age of 25 girls, young women, drink the same amount as their peers, there will be no children,” said Kaczynski.

He added that the average man “must drink excessively for 20 years” to develop alcoholism, and “a woman only two”.

“I’m a really sincere supporter of women’s equality, but I’m not a supporter of women pretending to be men and men pretending to be women, because this is something completely different,” Kaczynski said.

This remark caused some predictable jokes to the effect that alcohol actually helped conception, but also a lot of serious criticism.

When a government representative argued on a television show that alcohol’s effect on fertility was actually a legitimate topic for debate, opposition lawmaker Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz retorted: “This is not a debate, it’s an insult to Polish women.”

The traditionally Roman Catholic country already had one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, with abortions allowed in very few cases, before 2020. Then, the new ruling says women can no longer terminate pregnancies in cases where the fetus has serious abnormalities and is not viable after birth .

It sparked the biggest protests in Poland in decades. Since then, there have been cases of pregnant women dying even though the risk to a woman’s life is a legal basis for abortion according to current law. Women’s rights advocates say such cases occur because doctors are afraid to terminate a pregnancy even when the woman’s life could be at risk, fearing legal consequences for themselves.

Another opposition member of parliament, Aleksandra Gajevska, pondered whether Kaczynski was speaking out of some political calculation or not. “Is Jaroslaw Kaczynski ruthless, an evil cynic or mentally ill?” she said.

Kačinjski defended himself by saying that “an honest politician, if he knows something like that, has to talk about it”.

The number of births per woman in Poland fell from 3 in 1960 to 1.2 in 2003, according to World Bank statistics.

It started growing again sometime after 2003, and got a boost after Kaczynski’s government introduced a monthly cash bonus of 500 zlotys per child after winning power in 2015, hoping to encourage larger families. But the birth rate is falling again, according to Polish government statistics, and Kaczynski admitted last month that the program is not working as intended. The birth rate in 2021 was 1.32, according to Polish state statistics, which is low, but still higher than some other European countries.

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