Tuesday

24th Nov 2020

Opinion

Poland's assault on women's rights is just the beginning

  • Tens of thousands of Polish women and men have taken to the streets in protest at the verdict, regardless of the risk to their own safety in the middle of the pandemic (Photo: Spacerowiczka)

Last week, Poland's Constitutional Tribunal imposed a virtual ban on Polish women's access to abortion care.

This massive blow to the rule of law and to citizens' rights was carried out by what Donald Tusk has rightly labelled a pseudo-tribunal, the legitimacy of which is disputed by Poland's own people and by Europe.

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  • The Polish PM has announced he will be sending the army onto the streets as a response to the pandemic, but under the circumstances we can't help but wonder if this is not meant to intimidate the protesters (Photo: Spacerowiczka)

The court underwent changes back in 2016 when the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), and president Andrzej Duda, appointed judges friendly to their retrograde and oppressive ideology.

As a result, today the country is at a standstill, with protests taking place across Poland and solidarity actions happening throughout Europe.

This proves beyond just a poll that public opinion in Poland does not back a ban on women's access to abortion care, including parts of the electorate that PiS is supposedly representing.

Tens of thousands of Polish women and men have taken to the streets in protest at the verdict, regardless of the risk to their own safety in the middle of the pandemic.

They have been met by hundreds of police officers, who have used tear-gas on them and carried out arrests.

The Polish prime minster has announced he will be sending the army onto the streets as a response to the pandemic, but under the circumstances we can't help but wonder if this is not meant to intimidate the protesters.

If this were a healthy democracy, brave Polish women would not be forced to go out in the streets during a pandemic to demand their rights, and protests would not be met by violence. We cannot help but see the similarities with demonstrations in Belarus.

Last week's decision to attack women's reproductive safety was requested by a ruling party lacking the parliamentary support to pass an abortion ban, and fearful of re-igniting large-scale public demonstrations like the 2016 'Black Protest' against a total abortion ban and the criminalisation of women.

Behind PiS's assault on women's health and dignity is the party's need to appease its ultra-conservative supporters.

This assault on women's rights is just the beginning.

The court is being weaponised against the citizens it is sworn in to protect; its behaviour is that of an arm of the ruling party.

Civil society is hugely concerned that after the abortion ban, this pseudo-tribunal will be used to withdraw the few remaining protections that remain for survivors of domestic violence, and that it may then turn its attention to LGBTI people.

Another example of how Poland is drifting away from the European project is the recent signing of the so-called Geneva Consensus Declaration.

Spearheaded by the US, this is an anti-abortion declaration that carries no legitimacy within the UN system.

This document breaks with broad consensus in support of sexual and reproductive health and rights and attempts to dismantle the international human rights framework.

Horrible track-record

The farcical declaration has been signed by mostly authoritarian governments, with a horrible track-record on women's rights, plus Poland and Hungary.

This is a wake-up call for Europe.

The European Commission has already expressed serious concerns regarding breaches of the rule of law in Poland and has proposed to make EU funding to member states conditional on respect for this EU value.

The European Parliament supports this regulation, but it has been blocked by governments in the Council. It is time to ask how much abuse other member states will tolerate from autocratic governments. Where is the line that cannot be crossed?

EU leaders should be emboldened by recent evidence of clear public support for a robust rule-of-law conditionality approach and increased trust in the EU among Poles. If we are to continue to trust the European project, this is the minimum we must demand of EU governments.

As EU democratic governments have showed financial solidarity during the pandemic, now it is time to show political solidarity with the citizens of authoritarian countries and stand against the erosion of democracy.

Last week's verdict will be agonising for Polish women and their families, forcing some to continue through pregnancies against their will, and needlessly increasing their suffering. Coordinated attacks on the safety of Polish citizens, not only women, will continue.

As activists continue to protest in the streets and to shout their frustrations, we ask: will these be heard and acted upon by the EU and member states?

Author bio

Irene Donadio is head of strategy and partnership at the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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