Saturday

2nd Jul 2022

Polish court effectively bans legal abortions

  • Women demonstrating against the previous attempt in 2016 to restriction abortions in Poland (Photo: Grzegorz Żukowski)

The Polish constitutional tribunal on Thursday (22 October) ruled that abortions for foetal abnormalities violate the constitution - effectively imposing a near-total ban on legal abortions in the country.

Poland already had one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, allowing the termination of the pregnancy only in cases of foetal defects, a threat to the woman's health, or in the case of incest or rape.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

In effect, the majority of legal abortions, 1,074 of 1,100 performed last year, had been as a result of foetal malformations.

Banning those leads to an almost total halt to legal abortions in the predominantly Roman Catholic country, where women's rights have been in the crosshairs of the conservative government's drive to defend what it sees as the country's traditional, religious character.

Poland's top court cited protection of human dignity of the unborn child in its reasoning, saying terminating a pregnancy based on the health of the foetus is discrimination.

The case came before the court after a group of right-wing lawmakers asked the tribunal to check the 1993 abortion law's compatibility with the constitution.

The human rights commissioner of the Council of Europe said the ruling marked 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," Dunja Mijatovic said, adding that it will lead to women seeking abortions underground and abroad.

The conservative ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party had previously tried to restrict abortion laws in 2016, but had been met with massive protests.

An opinion poll published late last year showed fewer than 15 percent of Polish citizens back a tightening of abortion rules, Reuters reported.

Critics say the PiS government used the tribunal - where the majority of members had been appointed by PiS - to do what it could not do via legislation, and also took advantage of the pandemic when people cannot gather in mass protests.

"The tribunal's ruling is clearly political and far from legitimate. […] The PiS government have unlawfully stuffed the courts, including the constitutional tribunal precisely so they can carry out damaging policies with impunity," Green MEP Sylwia Spurek said.

"This decision will only further strip Polish women of their rights and endanger their health, mostly affecting the lives of low-income women," she added.

'Barbaric'

The leader of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, Iratxe Garcia called the new restrictions "barbaric".

"I am speechless. In today's Poland, an EU member state in the 21st century, the lives and health of Polish women are subordinated to a purely political calculation and ideological motivation," she said in a statement.

She added, that as a consequence, "even more women may be pushed to undergo illegal, unsafe and life-threatening abortions".

The Spanish MEP also called the way the decision was made, through the court, "shocking".

The EU has been criticising Warsaw for years for infringing on judicial independence, and Poland is under EU scrutiny for breaching the rule of law principle.

"Today Polish women are being direct victims of the absence of the rule of law," Garcia said, adding that "it is not a coincidence" that the decision was take now, as Covid-19 restrictions prevent demonstrations.

During the summer, the Polish government also said it would pull out of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. The tribunal is now also examining if the convention is in line with the constitution.

Warsaw has also begun a push to gather support in the region for replacing the Istanbul Convention with another document backing the concept of "traditional family".

Opinion

Five Istanbul Convention myths - and why Poland is wrong

In recent weeks, we have seen worrying news that Poland is now planning to withdraw from the Convention. There is an ongoing debate in Turkey which might lead to withdrawal. This development puts women's safety at high risk.

Women hit hardest by corona economic crisis

While women are in the frontline on fighting the pandemic, they are also exposed more to the economic crisis that will follow. The pay gap could also grow. More security for flexible jobs, and investment in care work, could help.

MEPs slam Polish abortion ban: 'Women will suffer'

MEPs have condemned the near-total ban on the right to abortion in Poland, following the entry into force of the country's Constitutional Tribunal ruling - which makes 98 percent of all abortions carried out annually in the country illegal.

Opinion

The euro — who's next?

Bulgaria's target date for joining the eurozone, 1 January 2024, seems elusive. The collapse of Kiril Petkov's government, likely fresh elections, with populists trying to score cheap points against the 'diktat of the eurocrats', might well delay accession.

News in Brief

  1. EU Parliament 'photographs protesting interpreters'
  2. Poland still failing to meet EU judicial criteria
  3. Report: Polish president fishing for UN job
  4. Auditors raise alarm on EU Commission use of consultants
  5. Kaliningrad talks needed with Russia, says Polish PM
  6. Report: EU to curb state-backed foreign takeovers
  7. EU announces trade deal with New Zealand
  8. Russia threatens Norway over goods transit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  4. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  6. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022

Latest News

  1. Nato's Madrid summit — key takeaways
  2. Czech presidency to fortify EU embrace of Ukraine
  3. Covid-profiting super rich should fight hunger, says UN food chief
  4. EU pollution and cancer — it doesn't have to be this way
  5. Israel smeared Palestinian activists, EU admits
  6. MEPs boycott awards over controversial sponsorship
  7. If Russia collapses — which states will break away?
  8. EU Parliament interpreters stage strike

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us