Polish abortion ban
18th February 2021
2020 saw Poland, an already restrictive country with regards to reproductive rights, introduce a further ban on abortion. In October, the Constitutional Tribunal, the constitutional court of Poland, ruled that abortion is acceptable only in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life may be in danger. The PiS (translating to the Law and Justice Party), a national conservative and right-wing populist political party, came into power in 2015 and have repeatedly attacked women’s rights organisations through raids, refusal of funding and mischaracterisation of their work as dangerous. They stated that abortion due to foetal defects was not compatible with the Polish constitution. In Poland, a country with a population of 38 million, there is reportedly less than 2000 legal abortions a year. However, women’s organisations estimate that up to 200,000 terminations occur either illegally or abroad. Abortion Dream Team is an organisation that aims to raise awareness of the pharmacological method of abortion and to promote a positive message about abortion, based on the real experiences of those who have had abortions and those who support them. Natalia, who is an activist for Abortion Dream Team says that since the new restrictions were announced, their phones have not stopped ringing. While Poland is a democratic country, it is heavily influenced by the Catholic Church, and has the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.
The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic described it as “a sad day for women’s rights” and stated that the ruling means “underground/abroad abortions for those who can afford, and even greater ordeal for all others”.
“Polish women have had to deal with limited access to sexual and reproductive health information for many years now, including an effort to criminalize sexual education while equating homosexuality with paedophilia, as recently as early 2020.”
The ruling, understandably, invoked rage from the public, with more than 400,000 people protesting across the country despite the coronavirus pandemic. The head of the European People’s party, Donald Tusk, declared: “Throwing the topic of abortion and a ruling by a pseudo-court into the middle of a raging pandemic is more than cynical”.
Many of the protests were led by Women’s Strike, an organisation that works towards rejecting the decades of economic inequality, criminalization and policing, racial and sexual violence, and endless global war and terrorism. Amnesty International reported that the Polish authorities responded to peaceful protests with excessive use of force, including pepper spray, the criminalization of peaceful protesters, and incitement of violence against protesters by public officials.
The ruling had a three-month delay as a result of the volume of protests that took place in October, but was eventually enforced in late January despite the lack of support from the public. This sparked three consecutive days of protests across Poland. Protestors in Warsaw wore green handkerchiefs representing the symbol of abortion rights in Argentina where abortion had been legalized just a month earlier. Demonstrators waved Polish and rainbow flags, along with the red lightning symbol that is used by Women’s Strike. Euronews held an interview with Bartlomiej Wroblewski, a parliamentarian, member of the PiS and a supporter of the new ruling on abortion. He argued that “it’s a universal right that protects all human beings, from the beginning to the end of life. People who are ill or disabled have the same right to live as healthy people like us do”. One of Warsaw Churches’ leading priests, Father Roman Trzcinski talks of the “civilisation of death that is spreading throughout the world through atheistic movements,” and claims that people are being manipulated by the protests.
Polish women have had to deal with limited access to sexual and reproductive health information for many years now, including an effort to criminalize sexual education while equating homosexuality with paedophilia, as recently as early 2020. Both bills concerning the near ban on abortion were citizens initiatives. The director of Amnesty International Poland, Draginja Nadazdin said that “Attempting to pass these recklessly retrogressive laws at any time would be shameful, but to rush them through under the cover of the COVID-19 crisis is unconscionable”. Polish Human Rights activists are furious over the new ruling and promise to seek legal action in the Polish Courts.