Just before Irish voters dealt the European Union (EU) a feisty blow by rejecting the Lisbon Treaty on June 13, the European Parliament's small pro-life faction landed another jab that sent the same message: There is a limit to how much sovereignty certain countries are willing to cede.
Prompted by Polish pro-life leader Konrad Szymanski, 100 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) sent a letter to Lithuanian Speaker CŠeslovas JursŠeÝnas in response to recent MEP pressure to reject pro-life legislation. The letter welcomes Lithuania's efforts to protect "children prior to birth" and it tersely clarifies Lithuania's international obligations: "There is no conflict between either European law or political commitments arising from European integration and legislative measures aimed at providing better legal protection for unborn children."
Translation: Each country has the right to set its own laws, and pro-life laws don't violate international obligations.
The letter shows that the European Parliament is not without its outspoken pro-life advocates, including Szymanski. According to Maciej Golubiewski, European Union strategist for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), Szymanski is one of pro-lifers' strongest allies in the European Parliament and a "very effective politician."
Szymanski has molded the European Parliament's pro-life coalition-still in its nascent stages -from the start. In 2006, he organized the first European Parliament pro-life conference. Its purpose, Szymanski said, was to draw strict boundaries, preventing the EU from inserting itself as moral arbiter in matters best left to sovereign states.
Last year EU representatives claimed that if Nicaragua wanted EU aid, it had to liberalize its abortion laws. Szymanski called them out, saying the representatives' statements infringed on the "the sovereign decision made by Nicaraguan legislators" and contradicted EU rules about external aid.
In March Szymanski questioned the ethics of paying women to donate their eggs to fertility clinics. Last year he drew attention to EU funding for pro-abortion organizations at the same time it neglected to fund a Christian maternity hospital in Sierra Leone. Some, he said, might falsely conclude that "carrying out an abortion agenda" is a string attached to funding in the field of humanitarian aid. In 2005, he even spoke out against a tax increase on diapers, calling it "anti-family and anti-motherhood."
Szymanski was also involved in the Polish Federation of Pro-Life Movements and networked with organizations like Human Life International. A Roman Catholic, he said his faith plays an "important role in my life and in my political activity," but it isn't the only motivation for his pro-life work. To Szymanski, "It is essentially a question of justice and dignity and equality of all people."
His cultural heritage influences him, too. Born in 1969, Szymanski grew up in Poland under communism and saw the moral independence required to oppose communist rule. Even after communism fell, he said, liberals and secularists dominated public debate. One of his motivations is to defend Poland's "Christian identity" and balance the debate: "I did not want to leave the old, conservative and Catholic generation helpless in the battle."
In Poland that effort has been successful, but his opponents still dominate European debate. Szymanski's letter addresses "a broader trend right now in international human rights law," said Susan Yoshihara, executive vice-president of C-FAM. Pro-abortion activists claim that international law requires abortion rights, although no UN treaty or binding UN document mentions abortion.
In Lithuania, a deputy of the parliament introduced legislation modeled on abortion law in Poland, where abortion is illegal with few exceptions. A group of liberal MEPs told the Lithuanian Parliament that nonbinding UN documents "confirmed that women's sexual and reproductive rights are human rights"-a statement that Terry McKeegan, counsel for the European Center for Law and Justice, agreed is false. Szymanski hopes that the pro-life MEPs' letter will make it "much harder to repeat the lies."
There are 785 MEPs, so Szymanski and his 99 signers lack the votes to block or pass legislation. Yet Golubiewski said the letter included signatures from some prominent leaders and carried more signatures than a letter written by the opposition. Szymanski calculates that when it comes to actual voting, his camp can count on 300 MEPs. "They're a very decided minority," said McKeegan. But they are a vocal one, and some are "more outspoken on pro-life issues than a lot of American pro-life congressmen."
In one speech last April, Szymanski said he and his fellow Europeans "face growing problems concerning the moral architecture of our home." The EU "still more frequently touches the sphere of fundamental ethical choice," and countries with radical philosophies outweigh "all other countries representing a less radical view." The answer, he said, is to limit the EU's power and protect the sovereignty of individual states-a task Christians can join: "Those . . . who believe that there is no place for Christians in the EU are wrong."
A major revision to a 1990 British law governing abortion, embryonic research, and fertilization techniques is endlessly making its way through Parliament this summer. But attempts by pro-life members of Parliament in the House of Commons to restrict abortions and ban ethically liberal practices early on were debated and voted down.
Instead, a wide majority of MPs decided to allow the creation of hybrid embryos for research purposes, to allow the creation of "savior siblings"-embryos genetically matched to an existing, disease-affected sibling and destined for therapeutic use-and to remove the current law's requirement that in vitro fertilization clinics take into account the "need of [a] child for a father" before giving treatment to patients. The latter provision was removed from the bill under the objection that it discriminated against single women and lesbian couples seeking pregnancy.
Although MPs were given a "free vote" on the bill's more controversial issues, meaning they did not have to side with party positions, the results were often disheartening: The ban on hybrids was rejected 336 to 176.
A majority of MPs also defeated a pro-life challenge to Britain's abortion law, which allows abortions to occur within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy only, unless the child has certain genetic abnormalities. A 304-233 vote ended a rally to reduce the abortion limit to 22 weeks.
"The pro-choice lobby has been having a field day," said Andrew Fergusson, spokesman for Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF), an ethics organization with membership including more than 4,500 British doctors. Fergusson told WORLD his organization was concerned that pro-choice MPs would go further, adding "liberalizing amendments" to the Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill before it emerged from Parliament.
Regarding the embryology sections, Fergusson said the Roman Catholic Church led the pro-life cause, but "I personally felt the Church of England was too silent." He said he was disappointed that individuals and individual churches hadn't done more to oppose the secular ethics the bill revision presented. "The number of Christians in the U.K. has probably bottomed out," he said. "Britain is a very post-Christian country."
Don Horrocks, head of public affairs at the Evangelical Alliance-the largest evangelical group in the U.K. with more than 3,300 member churches-admitted, "Pro-life groups in Britain have a long history of having different views, and not seeing eye-to-eye with each other," but said members churches of the alliance had raised grassroots opposition to the bill by writing to MPs and the prime minister. Horrocks said that while some might argue the fragmented nature of the U.K.'s pro-life movement was to blame for the recent defeats, he believes a powerful scientific lobby is the real culprit: "Scientists have really just made a big fuss about this, and I just don't think there's been enough backbone in Parliament to take them on."