Legal abortion in Poland is mainly carried out due to fetal defects. However, the country’s highest constitutional court has ruled against abortions due to fetal defects, effectively banning abortion in the country. The country will now only accept abortions in the cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at risk.
This development means that a lot of women will move abroad to have their abortions or spend more money performing one from non-certified medical practitioners.
In 2019, members of parliament from the ruling nationalist Law and Justice Party challenged the 1993 law, which granted women the right to terminate their pregnancies if the baby was deformed. The party has always promoted anti-abortion rhetoric and has placed the concept on their main agenda.
The party had also attempted to pass a bill banning abortion due to fetal defects in the early part of the year. That plan was quickly postponed when protests ensued. For a faster and less contentious resolution of the affair at the parliament, the ruling party took the matter to its highest court, made up of judges appointed by the party, CNN reports.
In 2016, the country had attempted to amend the 1993 abortion. Following massive demonstrations by women who came out in their numbers to protest the move – an estimated 100,000 people – mostly women, the plan was scrapped. There have been other attempts subsequently, which also drew sharp protests and criticisms from human rights groups. Earlier this year, women protested inside their cars to avoid violating COVID-19 safety protocols.
Poland is one of the most conservative Catholic countries in Europe. And of course, the Catholic Church frowns at abortion. Observers said that the Catholic Church bishops strongly influenced the ruling party to take the present stance concerning abortion. While the bishops may oppose abortion, opinion polls have said that Poles prefer to maintain the status quo on the existing abortion law.
The recent restrictions placed by the government on public gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic (a maximum of 10 people) means that people will not be able to publicly register their displeasure at the recent ruling by way of demonstrations.
Many international human rights groups had called on the government not to implement the law; however, it seems their pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Amnesty International and the Center for Reproductive Rights and Human Rights Watch all said they would take up the issue with the Polish government, including sending independent monitors to the court.
The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, reacted to the development on Twitter. She called the new ruling a sad day for women’s rights. “Removing the basis for almost all legal abortions in Poland amounts to a ban, and violates human rights,” she tweeted.
There were just over a thousand abortions in Poland in 2019. However, the rights group estimates that every year over 80,000 and 120,000 Polish women travel abroad to perform abortion procedures to avoid the stigma associated with doing so in their country. With the new ruling in Poland, that number is set to increase in geometrical proportions.