The State of Abortion Rights in Poland in 2020
Abortion has always been and continues to be a sensitive and delicate topic. The necessity to terminate a pregnancy vastly vary, but it is always associated with a lot of complex and deep emotions for women. In many cases, the restrictive laws and decisions made by the Governmental authorities related to a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion are against women’s reproductive rights and justice.
We can observe the results of the latter option now in Poland. The Constitutional Court of this country ruled a law allowing abortion of fetuses with congenital defects to be unconstitutional.
It is worth noting that a 1993 law sanctioned by Poland’s Catholic Church severely limited the grounds for legal abortion. Under the law, pregnancy can only be terminated if the pregnancy constitutes a threat to the life or health of the woman; if there is damage to the fetus; or if the pregnancy is the result of a criminal act such as rape or incest.
It is estimated that currently 98% of all legal abortions in Poland are performed in cases of severe and irreversible impairment of the fetus and that some 100,000 Polish women seek terminations abroad every year.
That is, Polish women were already limited in their reproductive rights since Polish legislation regarding abortion is considered one of the most stringent in Europe. And now, in fact, women have practically lost their right to safe and legal abortion, and it is horrible to imagine what women can feel, knowing that they are carrying a child with an indiscernible disease only because the country’s constitutional court “forced” them to do so. They do not have so many additional options. Women could try to find ways to undergo a clandestine abortion, or look for alternative solutions to terminate the pregnancy in other countries. Is this really what a woman should go through in the 21st century?
Several women have already filed claims against Poland in the European Court of Human Rights on cases related to the right to abortion (to be more precise, related to the Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, right to private life). For example, in Tysiąc v. Poland case, a pregnant woman with eyesight problems asked the doctors for a certificate of possible termination of pregnancy. As a result, her health condition was not fully taken into account, she gave birth to a child, her eyesight deteriorated significantly and now she is unable to take care of her children. Now she has three of them.
Of course, the issues connected to abortion are also related to the specific attitude towards the legal status of the human embryo. Some scientists believe that the human embryo is something abstract and therefore it can be arbitrarily deprived of life at any time before birth. Other scientists connect the emergence of the right to life of the embryo with its implantation into the uterus. The third theory is based on the statement that the embryo’s right to life appears when it reaches a certain level of development, at a certain gestational period, or when it is viable, even if it is supported by life-support equipment.
But still, a rhetorical question is brewing: if a woman who has already had two children before this pregnancy realizes that this pregnancy will bring her health problems, which may result in her being unable to raise her kids, then is it ethical and legal to deprive children of full and happy childhood? Only due to the fact that in order to undergo an abortion in Poland, a woman needs to go through several circles of bureaucratic hell? How do you protect children, if you do not give the right to children who have already been born not to worry about the state of health of their parents?
It should be noted that the protests continue in Poland from October 22 to the present day. Street protests took place in more than 150 Polish cities, a nationwide women’s strike was declared under the slogan “I’m not going to work,” and many employers supported their employees in this situation. On November 9, there were also protests against Przemysław Czarnek, the new Minister of Education and Science of Poland, demanding sufficient sex education. Accordingly, the original target only against the abortion ruling of the Constitutional Court has expanded to fulfilling women’s rights, and access to legal abortion and sex education, the return of an independent Constitutional Tribunal, the return to an independent Supreme Court of Poland, the appointment of an independent Polish Ombudsman.
Fortunately, the government indefinitely delayed the publication of the court’s ruling, which prevents it from going into legal force, in an apparent response to the protests.
For the change to take effect under ordinary procedures, the government would have had to publish the ruling in a government journal by Nov. 2. The government could still publish the decision at any time, as it has done with other controversial rulings, even though legal experts say that would violate the Constitution.
“There is a discussion going on, and it would be good to take some time for dialogue and for finding a new position in this situation, which is difficult and stirs high emotions,” Michał Dworczyk, the head of the prime minister’s office, told Polish media on Tuesday.
People can argue about the ethics of abortion, its correctness and legality for a long time, but it is worth remembering one thing: the existence of abortion is rooted in ancient times and this phenomenon will never disappear. Even if the state takes all measures to exclude abortion from the category of legal medical procedures, women will find other illegal options for terminating a pregnancy. Everything should depend on the wish of the woman and her state of health. Some societies seem to be more interested in the rights of the unborn child than in the rights of a woman, not in her health, interests or in her access to social justice. As the world is fighting for gender equality and the elimination of sexual violence, the prohibition of abortion is forcing communities to roll back in the struggle for women’s rights, depriving women of their access to bodily integrity and autonomy and to reproductive freedom. Forcing women to bear all unwanted pregnancies can ultimately lead to irreparable consequences both for women and for society as a whole, leading to a legal and moral collapse.
Related Reading: Can Women Exercise Their Rights of Legal and Safe Abortion During the Pandemic
I have tried to find information on the current state of abortion rights in Poland. However, I could not find satisfactory information. Thank you for writing this article and giving important updates on the situation in Poland!