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15th Apr 2024

Poland imposes anti-abortion law amid EU concern

  • (Photo: Piotr Pawłowski)

Poland is bringing a divisive anti-abortion law into force, amid escalating EU doubt on the legality of its court system.

The law, banning all terminations except for cases of rape and incest or if the mother's life was at risk, was to come into effect after Poland's Constitutional Court confirmed its earlier verdict by publishing a statement of justification on Wednesday (27 January).

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The original ruling, last October, prompted anti-government protests led by women's rights activists up and down the Roman Catholic country.

Wednesday's move saw a few thousand people hold a peaceful demonstration in Warsaw city centre.

It also provoked a harsh debate on Polish values and rule of law, indicating further turbulence ahead, however.

"The right to life is fundamental, because without life, no other human rights have meaning," Bartłomiej Wróblewski, an MP from the right-wing ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, said.

"The state can no longer take a life away only because someone is sick, disabled, in poor health," he added.

"It's a step forward, firmly removing clearly eugenic abortion from Polish law," Jerzy Kwaśniewski, the head of a government consultative body, Ordo Iuris, also said.

But for Borys Budka, the leader of the centre-right Civic Platform opposition party, Wednesday's move was a "provocation" by PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński.

Kaczyński wanted to "set Poland on fire" with new protests to deflect attention from his mishandling of the pandemic, Budka said.

It was an act of "ideological war", Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, from the conservative-agrarian Polish People's Party (PSL), also said after Kaczyński recently referred to women's rights campaigners as "evil".

"An illegal act is becoming Polish law. We can support women in making heroic choices, but we can't force them," Szymon Hołownia, a recent Polish presidential candidate, noted.

Hołownia's reference to "illegality" came amid criticism that the Constitutional Court itself had lost legitimacy by being improperly stuffed with pro-PiS appointees.

"A pseudo-tribunal published a pseudo-verdict," Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, another Civic Platform MP, added.

"The Constitutional Court was improperly composed ... so, since there wasn't a legal verdict, we have to ask, under which law, they [the adoption laws] can enter into force? It's complete chaos," Andrzej Rzepliński, a former Constitutional Court president, said.

The battle on values and rule of law has also played out at EU level, after the European Commission launched a sanctions procedure against PiS judicial reforms back in 2017.

And the commission, also on Wednesday, tightened the screw by sending its latest complaint, on a Polish judicial Disciplinary Tribunal.

The "new grievance" said the tribunal was meant to have suspended work under EU law, because its political independence from PiS was likewise in doubt.

"Poland has one month to reply to this additional reasoned opinion and to take the necessary measures to comply with EU law, otherwise the commission may refer the case to the Court of Justice," it said.

The tribunal recently lifted the immunity of one judge, Igor Tuleya, whose verdicts and political activism were disliked by Poland's ruling party.

He now faces over three years in prison on a technicality.

But he told Polish media that was a price he was "willing to pay".

"I'm acting ... not just as a judge who respects the law, but also trying, today, to show the position of Polish civil disobedience," Tuleya said on Wednesday.

"The Constitutional Tribunal has nothing to do with the constitution. Laws have nothing to do with laws [any more]," he added, referring to the anti-abortion verdict and Poland's wider legal limbo.

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