Thursday

4th Mar 2021

MEPs slam Polish abortion ban: 'Women will suffer'

  • The near-total ban has prompted large mass demonstrations across the country for months (Photo: Spacerowiczka)

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.

The highly-politicised court initially ruled last October that all abortions for severe and irreversible foetal abnormalities were unconstitutional, limiting the already very restrictive abortion law in line with Roman Catholic doctrine.

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That means that about 98 percent of all abortions (1,074 out of 1,110) carried out in Poland in 2019 are now considered illegal.

The decision, which effectively bans all terminations except for criminal cases (rape and incest) or if the mother's life is at risk, prompted one of the largest mass demonstrations in Poland's post-communist era.

The European Parliament adopted last November a non-legislative resolution that "strongly condemns" Poland's deterioration of women's sexual and reproductive rights, arguing that the ruling was "yet another example of the political takeover of the judiciary and the systemic collapse of the rule of law" in Poland.

But MEPs renewed on Tuesday (9 February) their support and solidarity with Polish women, calling on the European Commission and the Council to protect fundamental human rights and gender equality.

"They did it. Poland's constitutional tribunal - under the control of [right-wing ruling Law and Justice] (PiS) party - has effectively banned abortion. Perhaps, they thought we would look away, but we did not," said the head of the socialists in the parliament, Spanish MEP Iratxe García.

"This ban does not mean that there will be an end to this practice. It means playing around with the lives of women because those who will need to interrupt their pregnancy will do so," she warned, adding that Europe must find a solution to stop clandestine illegal abortions.

According to Polish and international women's rights NGOs, between 80,000 and 180,000 such "clandestine or informal abortions" are carried out each year. Polish officials estimate this number is only around 10,000.

"This is a situation in which women will suffer both mentally and physically," said Dutch liberal MEP Samira Rafaella.

Meanwhile, Polish green MEP Sylwia Spurek called on the European Council to take the Article 7 procedure against Poland "seriously," warning that the country's abuse of the rule of law has "real-life consequences that will cause suffering for countless people".

"The EU must not continue to stand by and watch as the rights of European citizens are stripped away by a far-right government," she said, adding that this situation proves again that Polish women cannot rely on the institutions responsible for the defence of the constitution and human rights to protect them.

EU commissioner for equality Helena Dalli said that triggering the Article 7 procedure against Poland means that "the independence and legitimacy of the Constitutional Tribunal are seriously undermined, and the constitutionality of Polish law can no longer be effectively guaranteed".

But she also acknowledged that the EU has no competencies in abortion law.

"Women rights are an achievement the whole of Europe should be proud of. Backsliding is not an option," she said.

'Misogyny reigns supreme'

Last month, the chair of the parliament's women's rights committee called on the Polish government to amend their abortion law, arguing that it is "an attack" on fundamental and human rights that should be "unthinkable" in a liberal democracy in 2021.

"In Poland, misogyny reigns supreme. There is no place for such contempt for humanity in Europe and I stand with the protesters in Poland who are speaking out against this backward-looking policy," said Austrian MEP Evelyn Regner from the centre-left S&D group.

In the EU, Malta is the only country where abortion is completely prohibited. A woman there who terminates her pregnancy can face a prison sentence of up to three years.

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.

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