Monday: Hili dialogue and big abortion strikes in Poland and Ireland

Today is October 3, 2016, and we have a special edition. I’ll only point out one historic event: Thomas Wolfe, one of my favorite authors, was born on this day in 1900. He died in 1938 at the age of 37, succumbing to tuberculosis of the brain. Many literature critics I’ve spoken (you’d recognize their names) disdain him for overwriting, and yes, he did at times, but when he was “on” there was no American writer that could so effectively capture the look and spirit of America. Even William Faulkner, in an interview at Washington & Lee University in 1958, gave Wolfe substantial plaudits:

Unidentified participant: Sir, you mentioned Thomas Wolfe [as being of your generation. Would you comment on his place in American] […]?

William Faulkner: It’s too soon to—to say, I think. It takes—takes a little time before the—the dross evaporates from anyone’s work, until there’s a distance for a true perspective. At one time, I was asked to—what I thought of my contemporaries. I said, “It’s too soon to tell.” The questioner said, “Well, haven’t you got any opinion of them at all.” I—I said, “Opinion of who?” He named Wolfe, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Caldwell, and me. I rated them then Wolfe first, me second, Dos Passos, Caldwell, and Hemingway. [audience laughter] Not on—on what we’d accomplished, but only on the single general ground I could find, which was the—the attempt to do more than we could do, on the failure. I rated Wolfe because his was the most splendid failure. He had tried hardest to take all the experience that he was capable of observing and imagining and put it down in one book, on the head of a pin. He had the courage to experiment, to be—to write nonsense, to be foolish, to be sentimental, in the attempt to get down the—that single moving and passionate instance of man’s struggle. I rated myself next because I had tried next hardest to get everything on one page. I rated the others down to Hemingway, not on the value of his work, which I thought was, per se, the best because it was intact and complete. But his was—showed less desire to try to get all of man’s heart onto the pinhead. So I think it’s too soon for anyone to have a—have an opinion about Wolfe. Maybe the only opinion to have about anybody is, “Do I like to read him or don’t I?” And if I like to read him, he’s all right. If I don’t like to read him, then he may be all right for somebody else, but he ain’t my cup of tea. [audience laughter]

If you want the very best of Wolfe without the fluff that many critics dislike, read the story “The Child by Tiger” (1937; free access online), about the lynching of a black man who could no longer bear his menial job and the oppression of the segregationist South. The story was later included in his postmortem novel The Web and the Rock.


Now the big news: it’s “Black Monday,” and the women of Poland are on strike today, not working but marching in protest of the draconian abortion laws being considered by the national parliament.  Women throughout Europe (below) also protested in solidarity with their Polish sisters. As the Independent reports, the Polish government is actually considering going backwards on abortion, banning all of them:

Terminations are currently permitted in Poland, where 87 per cent of the population identify as Catholic, only when the life of the foetus is under threat, when there is a grave threat to the health of the mother, or when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

If the proposed ban were enacted, all terminations would be criminalised and women who had abortions could be sent to prison for up to five years. Doctors found to have assisted with a termination would also be liable for prosecution and a prison sentence.

Critics say the new law could mean woman suffering miscarriages would be suspected and investigated, and doctors might be put off conducting even routine procedures on pregnant women for fear of being accused of facilitating an abortion.

The new Polish government is extremely right wing, and of course the Catholic Church, which has an iron fist in that country, is behind all this. Malgorzata thinks the abortion law will pass, even though it’s in violation of EEU stipulations (as are the restrictive abortion laws of Ireland, but that hasn’t stopped them from being enforced). Thank you, Vatican!

Malgorazata and Andrzej are homebodies, loath to leave their computers, but this issue was sufficiently important that they made a protest sign and joined the men and women protesting in Wloclawek, 45 minutes away. I asked how the protest went and Malgorzata reported this:

For a town like Wloclawek and for the awful weather (after months and months without one drop from the sky it was pouring down today) it was quite a lot of people. I think 150-200, all clad in black – the whole action is called “Black Monday”. There were young women and old women, young men and old men – I think it was a success. After some speeches by young, wonderful women they were going to march through the streets to the municipal authority.

Wearing black as was requested, Malgorzata and Andrzej carried a sign they made; it says “Women are human beings. Embryos are embryos.”


Even Hili added her plaintive meows to the protest:

Hili: What a pity that I can’t go with you for the demonstration.
A: Why?
Hili: I would tell the government that we girls need liberation theology to free us from their stupidity.


In Polish:

Hili: Szkoda, że nie mogę pojechać z wami na demonstrację.
Ja: Dlaczego?
Hili: Powiedziałabym im, że my, dziewuchy, potrzebujemy teologii wyzwolenia od głupoty.

And here are some tw**ts, provide by Grania, showing solidarity from the women of other countries.  Ireland:

Solidarity from the women of Iceland. As one woman says, “Any limits to women’s rights are limits to women’s rights around the world.”

And news from The Guardian, with a photo of a protestor in Warsaw:


  1. Christopher
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Well of course we have to ban abortions! We must save their little souls for jeesus and their young bodies for the priests.

  2. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    I’d noticed PCC’s penchant for quoting Thomas Wolfe recently. Which rather baffled me considering the lambasting he gave Tom Wolfe a little earlier for the latter’s misrepresentation of Darwinism.

    It took some Googling to ascertain there were actually two of them.


    • Posted October 3, 2016 at 7:58 am | Permalink

      Yes, a common mistake. Tom Wolfe did write some good stuff, notably The Right Stuff, but he’s no Thomas Wolfe, who wrote fiction that was thinly disguised autobiography.

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    Just a curious question – How does Poland feel about sterilization and other birth control. Probably not much?

    Certainly fitting that a new born baby was thrown from a 2nd story apartment by the mother yesterday or the day before. I always wonder what if any advice did the woman receive who ended up doing this.

    • Malgorzata
      Posted October 3, 2016 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      Sterilization is forbidden in Poland. Contraceptives are allowed but some pharmacies refuse to carry them (thankfully, not many). However, there is a rumor that the current government is preparing a bill forbiding all abortifacients (“day after” pill, IUD etc.) The draft of this bill was leaked and it is formulated in such a way that even other contraceptives might be forbidden. The Church is also strongly opposing in vitro fertilization and this, too, may be forbidden.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted October 3, 2016 at 7:59 am | Permalink

        Thanks much for that information. It kind of figures, sad as it is. In the U.S. Planned Parenthood is under attack from the pro-life forces more than ever. However, only pro-life before birth.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted October 3, 2016 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      Historical perspective: My ladyfriend is one of nine (on the ninth one, her father decided that they were no longer Catholic but Jewish). In order to get her tubes tied, her mother had to do it on the sly, along with an apendectomy. I figured that this was because she was going to a Catholic hospital, but no – this was apparently STATE law in Pennsylvania, in the ’50s. Not sure when that changed – perhaps with Roe v Wade?

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted October 3, 2016 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        Yes, Odd how laws evolved or didn’t. Always possible that Roe had nothing to do with the other. Going way back to very late 70s I was getting a vasectomy in Texas of all places. One doctor came in and said he wouldn’t do it after I told him I had no kids and was not yet 30. Another one did it, said it was no problem with him. At least in this case it was a personal choice.

  4. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Irish women might still be worse off than Polish women, for the simple reason that Irish have to undertake a sea voyage or a plane flight to get an abortion. (And that includes Northern Ireland, whose Protestant fundies are quite as bad as Eire’s Catholics in that regard).

    That presumes, of course, that the proposed Polish law doesn’t try to criminalise abortions carried out in other countries, or I can see a new class of refugees – Polish women who cross the border to get an abortion and daren’t return home for fear of prosecution.


    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 3, 2016 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      I could add that Poland’s laws right now are already so restrictive, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a lot of Polish ‘abortion tourists’ to neighbouring countries already.

      I found this interesting list of EU countries where abortion is mostly illegal –

      Ireland (Republic and Northern)
      San Marino

      In the case of Andorra, Leichtenstein and San Marino, I doubt if anyone is much bothered, for practical reasons. I notice Vatican City isn’t on the list, but since the Pope is probably the only resident it’s probably irrelevant.
      Tough luck for Maltese women though.


      • Brygida Berse
        Posted October 3, 2016 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

        Right across the southern border, in Slovakia there are many well-equipped abortion clinics, and the procedure is legal there up to the 12th week of pregnancy. Polish women represent a big portion of the clientele. The staff often speaks Polish (the two languages are similar enough anyway), and many clinics organize transportation from distant Polish locations, buses or even limos.

        Unfortunately, these comfortable arrangements are not easily available to poor, uneducated women from the Polish countryside. They often don’t know where to go, and the price, although affordable by Western standards (€350-400), presents a real barrier for some. In addition, in small towns and villages there is no expectation of privacy and societal control is tight. The only doctor in the area and the local priest may well exchange information about the private lives of the inhabitants.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 4, 2016 at 12:45 am | Permalink

          That always seems to be the case – “women with money have options and women without money have babies”. (I stole that quote).

          Ideally there should be some organisation that could spread information and maybe practical help to those in need of it.

          I rather doubt whether, in practical terms, the proposed law change would make much difference, since apparently very few qualify for abortion under the existing law.


  5. dabertini
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    The power of women is a beautiful thing!!

  6. Rita
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    This reminds me of Indiana. And if Trump and Pence are elected, this could happen in the US.

  7. Posted October 3, 2016 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Helping out here. On this day in 1995, O. J. Simpson was acquitted of the murder of Nicole Brown (thanks in part to the expert testimony of PCC(E)), and on this same day in 2005 he was convicted of numerous felonies.

    • Posted October 3, 2016 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      Sorry, Simpson was convicted in 2008.

    • Posted October 3, 2016 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      We cannot really know, but I do not think Prof. Coyne’s testimony had any impact on the jury, whatever Simpson’s attorney may claim.

  8. Heather Hastie
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    If people want to be anti-abortion themselves, that’s fine by me. It’s the arrogance and superiority of religion that makes them think they have the right to force their rules on those who don’t share their beliefs.

    This issue makes me really angry because religion has such a hold on societal attitudes that women who have abortions are forced to feel shame even if they’re the victim of rape or incest – reasons most religions accept as valid for having an abortion.

    I also bet there would be a whole different attitude if it was men who got pregnant. The list of reasons the Church considered valid for having an abortion would be HUGE, and include things like, “severe morning sickness preventing priest from completing his religious duties.”

    • ploubere
      Posted October 3, 2016 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      Exactly. Their smug arrogance that their ignorant position is the only moral one, and they will punish you if you don’t agree.

      The only hospital in my town is Catholic, and abortion rights are under siege in my state of Tennessee. If the state legislature had its way, it would be as bad here as in Poland.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted October 3, 2016 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

        The way the Catholic Church has wangled its way into healthcare in the US is something I find outrageous. However, when you have a for-profit system it’s inevitable. Another reason for a government or other single-payer system. Canada, NZ, Australia, GB, most of Europe, Japan, and South Korea do pretty well. Most of us have longer life-spans than the US and cheaper healthcare with no loss of quality.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 3, 2016 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

      “severe morning sickness preventing priest from completing his religious duties.”

      You may jest, but that’s not unlike the lists found in some European countries e.g.
      ‘The legal situation: up to 12 weeks:
      Abortions can only be performed in hospitals
      * If continuation of the pregnancy or delivery would endanger the life or health of the woman on account of a disease, physical defect or weakness in the woman.
      * If the delivery or taking care of the child would be a substantial burden. The burden can be of any kind.
      * etc etc

      Or Italy:
      The legal situation: up to 90 days (between 12 and 13 weeks) if continuing the pregnancy, childbirth or motherhood would seriously endanger the woman’s physical or mental health, the woman’s state of health, economic, social or family circumstances.
      etc etc
      Free of charge for all women, including immigrant women, foreigners and women without legal resident’s permit.

      I find Italy interesting. The seat of the Holy Roman Church, yet its laws (or some of them) seem to be decidedly non-religiously-influenced.


      • Heather Hastie
        Posted October 3, 2016 at 7:10 pm | Permalink


  9. Claudia Baker
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    It’s not an easy thing for “homebodies” to go and protest, so I salute and support you Malgorazata and Andrzej.

    I spent a year in Iceland, teaching, in the late 90s, and the absolute equality of the women there is palpable.

    And one more thing: f**k the Catholic Church.

  10. Flemur
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Equal rights have “not been met with enthusiasm.”:

    Men should have the right to ‘abort’ responsibility for an unborn child, Swedish political group says

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 3, 2016 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

      I think that the decision whether to have an abortion or not is absolutely the prerogative of the woman. She can if she wishes ask the prospective father’s opinion but is not obliged to do so, or to follow his wishes.

      But this cuts both ways. Assuming the sex was consensual and the pregnancy is unintended, the male’s financial liability should be limited to paying for an abortion unless he agrees otherwise. He should not be liable for the financial burden of childcare should the woman unilaterally choose to have a child.


  11. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the link to the Wolfe story.

    Goes to show that you can go home again, when it comes to a favorite writer.

    • Newish Gnu
      Posted October 3, 2016 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      Nicely done! I always liked that novel.

  12. Mark R.
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    How many more centuries do humans have to live under the odious fist of religion…especially the Catholic church? This shit is so depressing.

  13. Flemur
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    “Women are human beings. Embryos are embryos.”

    Typical dictionary definition:
    “Embryo: (Gynaecology & Obstetrics) the human product of conception up to approximately the end of the second month of pregnancy.”

    They could just as well say “Embryos are human beings. Women are women.” It’s just word games.

    Are they against abortions that take place after 2 months of pregnancy?

    Infanticide is certainly part of the non-human animals world, so what, if any, are the atheist moral arguments for not saying “Women are human beings. Babies are babies” in support of infanticide?

    • Malgorzata
      Posted October 3, 2016 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      A Catholic priest went into a restaurant and ordered rosted chicken. After a moment the waitress came and placed before him a plate with scrambled eggs. He vigorously protested that he didn’t order eggs but chicken. The waitress answered: “You and your Church insist that embryo is a human being, like I am. So eat this egg and shut up. It is as much a chicken as embryo is a human being”.

      • Claudia Baker
        Posted October 3, 2016 at 3:38 pm | Permalink


      • Flemur
        Posted October 4, 2016 at 8:18 am | Permalink

        An atheist went into a restaurant and ordered rosted[sic] chicken. After a moment the waitress came and placed before him a plate with scrambled eggs. He vigorously protested that he didn’t order eggs but chicken. The waitress answered: “You and your philosophy of secular biology insist that [an] embryo is a human being, like I am. So eat this egg and shut up. It is as much a chicken as [an] embryo is a human being”. The atheist responded “Well, you insist that killing inconvenient humans is OK, and you inconvenienced me by purposely screwing up my food order for some stupid reason, and were also rude by telling me to shut up” so he killed the waitress, cooked and ate her.


        It’s funny because it’s true! I’m an atheist and would kill a stupid and obnoxious waitress if I thought I could get away with it. But, rather than eating her, I’d feed her to the dogs.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 4, 2016 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

          “I’m an atheist and would kill a stupid and obnoxious waitress if I thought I could get away with it.”

          You must have a truly sensational social life.


  14. Agnieszka
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    I left Poland and moved to Canada in 1989 when abortion was still legal and crosses did not hang on the walls of the classrooms. I am an atheist and so is my father and most of my family. My father was a member of Solidarity, fighting the old regime, but this is not the Poland he fought for…this war on women makes me so very sad…its like travelling back in time to medieval times.I am angry that the church gained so much power over the past 25 years, hope people of Poland will be able to get it back, the Black Friday is a good start !

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 3, 2016 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

      It’s a pity that, in their reaction against Communism, instead of moving forward Poland seems to have regressed to the 18th century. (At least as far as women are concerned).

      If only they could have kept the atheist/egalitarian aspect of communism and dumped the authoritarian bits; instead they seem to have done the opposite.

      (It happens depressingly often – happened in Iran when the students thought they’d got rid of the Shah, for example)


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