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Politician links Poland’s low birthrate to women who drink ‘as much as men’

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Poland's ruling Law and Justice party, in 2019. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images)

The leader of Poland’s ruling party caused a stir at home and abroad after he claimed the country’s low birthrate is caused by young women who drink as much as men do.

The unsupported claims by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Poland’s Law and Justice party, were swiftly denounced by women’s rights groups and lawmakers inside and outside the country.

“If we see a continuation of the situation where, until the age of 25, young women drink as much as men their age, then there will be no children,” Kaczynski said Saturday.

Kaczynski’s reasoning set off a firestorm in a country where access to contraception is considered the worst on the continent — and its abortion restrictions are tougher than in many other European countries. A pregnancy can be terminated only in cases of incest and rape or if the mother’s life is in danger.

After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, which for almost 50 years established a constitutional right to abortion on American soil, some Polish activists noted “a lot of parallels” — pointing out that they are the only two developed nations in the 21st century to have rolled back abortion rights.

Lessons from Poland, the other developed country curtailing abortion rights

“We could of course laugh about this, make memes out of it, but it’s a serious, tragic matter,” Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus, a member of the Sejm for the Left political coalition, told reporters Monday, according to the Guardian.

Another politician from the same party, Barbara Nowacka, said on Twitter that Kaczynski “knows nothing about women, our plans, dreams and life."

Critics said the relatively low and declining birthrate in Poland — among the lowest in Europe at 1.38 children per woman in 2020, per the World Bank — could be blamed on rising costs of living and raising children, the coronavirus pandemic and broader changes in cultural attitudes.

Broadly speaking, alcohol consumption can affect fertility for those trying to conceive — but its impact applies to men, too. A 2021 study from the U.S. National Library of Medicine focusing on Poland found that the chance of high alcohol intake was four times greater in men than in women.

Kaczynski was campaigning ahead of Poland’s 2023 parliamentary election when he made the remarks, adding that he is “a sincere supporter of women’s equality” but not a supporter “of women pretending to be men, and men pretending to be women.”

PES Women, a group that promotes gender equality and women’s representation inside and outside the Party of European Socialists, slammed Kaczynski’s remarks as “outrageous” and “ridiculous.”

Concerns about declining birthrates are growing in several countries, including in the United States, as native-born populations may not grow enough to keep the future economy afloat and fund social programs.

More Americans say they’re not planning to have a child, new poll says, as U.S. birthrate declines

The European Parliamentary Forum in 2020 said Poland had regressed on access to effective and affordable methods of birth control as the government moved to encourage people to have more children by promoting a policy that paid mothers per child.

Kaczynski, who served as Poland’s prime minister from 2006 to 2007, was once described by Politico as the country’s “most powerful” but “divisive politician.” The 73-year-old is not married and has no children.