Warsaw, October 23, 2020
In its session yesterday, the Polish Constitutional Court passed a ruling that will ban practically all abortions in the country.
According to the Court’s ruling, the provision of a 1993 law that allowed women to have an abortion due to a serious and irreversible defect or incurable disease of the child does not comply with the constitution, reports the BBC.
The newly-repealed provision had been used to justify about 98% of the abortions in the country. It is now legal to have an abortion in Poland only if the pregnancy threatens the life or health of the mother or if the pregnancy resulted from rape.
The decision has provoked a firestorm of reactions from both sides.
“Today, in memory of St. John Paul II, the civilization of Life triumphs over the civilization of Death in his homeland. October 22 will go down in history. We are finished with the murder of the defenseless, with the legacy of the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century,” tweeted Tomasz Szymkowski, a member of the Polish Sejm—the lower house of the bicameral Parliament.
“The decision of whether to have a child or not should be made before the child appears—realizing all the consequences of this, that is, for example, considering that in the future the child could get sick... The murder of children due to a suspicion of disability is recognized as unconstitutional!!!” writes the lawyer Magdalena Kozevka-Kalisuk.
Conversely, activists insist that the law will only increase the “abortion underground” in Poland and that thousands of Polish women could become victims of illegal abortions.
“Hell for women. This is what today’s verdict of the politicized Constitutional Court means,” writes Deputy Speaker of the Sejm Malgorzata Kidava-Blonska.
Council of Europe Commissioner for human rights Dunja Mijatovic called the Polish court's decision "a sad day for women's rights."
"Today's constitutional court decision means clandestine or foreign abortions for those who can afford them, and an even harsher test for everyone else," she tweeted.
Even before yesterday’s decision, Polish legislation on abortion was among the strictest in Europe. After the fall of communism in the early 1990s, a push was underway to completely ban abortion, which led to 1993’s law on family planning, fetal protection, and conditions for termination of pregnancy, which allowed abortions if the pregnancy poses a threat to the life or health of the murder, if a medical examination shows that the fetus has a serious and irreversible defect or incurable disease that threatens its life, and if the pregnancy occurred as a result of a criminal act.
Such legislation led to Polish women going abroad to have abortions and to the emergence of the “abortion underground” writes the BBC.
According to the Polish Ministry of Health, 1,116 abortions were performed in the country last year, though unofficial estimates say the number of illegal abortions and abortions outside the country could be as much as 10 times higher.
In 2016, a bill was introduced that would have banned abortions due to defects and punished women and doctors with a 5-year sentence for abortions. Mass protests sprang up throughout the country and the bill was dropped. However, a bill proposing to ban abortions because of defects, though without any stipulated jail time, was submitted the next year, which the Sejm began to consider only in April of this year. Mass protests could not be held due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Eventually, 119 Sejm deputies appeal to the Constitutional Court to repeal the provision of the 1993 law allowing abortions for reasons of defects or diseases in the child, arguing that it legalized eugenic practices and violated the right to life and personal dignity of the child.
“Human rights cannot be the privilege of healthy people,” Deputy Bartholomew Vrublevsky argued in court, adding that prenatal indications of defects or sickness in the child often prove to be inaccurate when a healthy child is born.
According to a 2016 poll, the younger generation of Poles is overwhelmingly pro-life, with 80% of 18-24-year-olds supporting a total ban on abortion, as compared to just 50% of those over 65.