Poland already had one of the strictest abortion laws in Europe. Now it is being tightened even more. The Polish Supreme Court has paved the way for a further tightening of the restrictive abortion law. The presiding constitutional judge, Julia Przyłębska, said in a ruling that existing legislation – one of Europe’s most restrictive – that allows for the abortion of malformed foetuses was “incompatible” with the constitution. In doing so, she granted a motion by right-wing conservative members of parliament. These saw the abortion regulation as a violation of the constitutionally anchored protection of life. The court agreed with this. Because the Polish Constitution guarantees a right to life, Julia Przyłębska, added, terminating a pregnancy based on the health of the fetus amounted to «a directly forbidden form of discrimination.» After the ruling goes into effect, abortion will only be permissible in Poland in the case of rape, incest or a threat to the mother’s health and life.
Women’s rights and opposition groups reacted with dismay. «Today’s judgement puts the health and lives of women in Poland at great risk and violates Poland’s obligations under international human rights treaties to refrain from retrogressive measures that roll-back women’s rights to sexual and reproductive health care,» said Leah Hoctor, regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. «This judgement is the result of a coordinated systematic wave of attacks on women’s human rights by Polish lawmakers, and represents their latest attempt to ban abortion in Poland,» said Esther Major, senior research adviser at Amnesty International. «Legal prohibitions on abortion do not prevent abortion or reduce the rates of abortion; they serve only to damage women’s health by pushing abortions underground or forcing women to travel to foreign countries to access abortion care they need and to which they have a right. Although all women may be affected by this cruel judgement, marginalized groups of women who cannot afford to travel will disproportionately suffer the consequences of the judges’ actions today.»
Hundreds of people took to the streets in cities across Poland on Thursday night, protesting against the tightening of the country’s abortion laws. Police met the protesters with pepper spray in some places, and at least 15 demonstrators were arrested.
The ruling came as Poland grapples with a second wave of coronavirus cases and restrictions limit the possibility for mass protests. On Friday, October 22th, the prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, announced that restaurants and bars would close for two weeks and public gatherings would be limited to five people.
Interview with Leah Hoctor, regional Director for Europe, Center for Reproductive Rights in Euronews Today from 22.October 2020.