Saturday

26th Nov 2022

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.

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

  • 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.

Polish court effectively bans legal abortions

The human rights commissioner of the Council of Europe said the ruling marked a "sad day for women's rights", adding that more women will seek abortions underground and abroad.

Podcast

Abortion Wars

Pressures on women to avoid terminating unwanted pregnancies have been growing in countries including Croatia, Poland and Romania.

EU parliament calls for feminist foreign policy

The European Parliament has called for gender-equal foreign and security policy. Sweden already has one. But will other EU institutions or member states follow their lead?

News in Brief

  1. 'Pro-Kremlin group' in EU Parliament cyberattack
  2. Ukraine will decide on any peace talks, Borrell says
  3. Germany blocks sale of chip factory to Chinese subsidiary
  4. Strikes and protests over cost-of-living grip Greece, Belgium
  5. Liberal MEPs want Musk quizzed in parliament
  6. Bulgarian policeman shot dead at Turkish border
  7. 89 people allowed to disembark in Italy, aid group says
  8. UN chief tells world: Cooperate on climate or perish

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. Sweden says 'no' to EU asylum relocation pledges
  2. The 'proof' problem with EU sanctions — and how to fix it
  3. The EU gas cap: will the bottle ever be 'uncorked'?
  4. Enough talk, only rights can eliminate patriarchal violence
  5. Swedish EU presidency: 'Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine'
  6. EU Commission to keep Hungary's EU funds in limbo
  7. 'No substance' price ceiling for gas leaves everyone disgruntled
  8. Paying consumers who save most energy could tame gas prices

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us