Abortion fight in Poland. Round 3

The Catholic Church, which keeps the Polish government on a short leash, demands a ban on abortion. In search of an excuse to do it, the government turns to the Constitutional Tribunal.

Magdalena Karst-Adamczyk
Magdalena Karst-Adamczyk Wysokie Obcasy, Global
Source: Wysokie Obcasy
Abortion fight in Poland. Round 3 - NewsMavens
Black protest in Warsaw. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

Poland has been arguing over abortion for a long time. As soon as the ruling party PiS (Law and Justice) won the elections in 2015, it became clear that the issue would emerge. Now, the Church, which keeps the government on a short leash, is demanding a ban on abortion. According to the bishop's assembly, the current abortion law, already one of the strictest in the world, is not restrictive enough.

Theoretically, women are allowed to undergo abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy in three cases: when the woman's life is in danger, when the fetus is permanently damaged or if the pregnancy is a result of rape. In reality, even in those cases the procedure is not readily available. According to the Ministry of Health, 1100 legal abortions were conducted in Poland last year. The number of illegal procedures is estimated to be 50-100 thousand annually.

In the past two years, four different proposals for a new abortion law were introduced to the Parliament. Two of them -- one banning abortion, the other - liberalizing the existing law -- were rejected by the MPs in 2016. By no means did it mean that the government changed its mind and decided to keep the status quo established in 1993 (by a bill often referred to as the “abortion compromise”).

While from the beginning, the pro-choice proposal did not stand a chance in a Parliament dominated by conservative politicians, the other project, which entailed penalizing abortion, seemed predestined to win. What ultimately stopped it was the force of social protests.

Now, history is ready to repeat itself. Two projects have been introduced to the Parliament. One is anti-choice and backed by many prominent politicians (although formally it is a citizen project). The other one, created by the “Save Women 2017” committee, is pro-choice and has been signed by 500 thousand Poles (5 times the required number of signatures).

The ruling party knows too well that this issue may inspire crowds of women’s rights’ defenders to take to the streets. Hence, they are playing it safe and operating slowly via legitimizing institutions.

Currently, the change has been submitted for consideration by the Constitutional Tribunal. Over the course of last fall and winter, this previously independent body was stacked with judges selected by the ruling party and crippled in its ability to rule on breaking issues. 

According to official statistics, the vast majority of legal abortions in Poland are conducted because the fetus is damaged (1044 in 1100 procedures last year). If the Constitutional Tribunal decides that this is contrary to the Constitution, then abortion will de facto become illegal in Poland.

The project, created by Bartłomiej Wróblewski, has been signed by 100 MPs from PiS, Kukiz’15, Wolni and Solidarni groups, as well as by independent deputies. Allegedly, leaders of the ruling party are not among them.

- It is clear that PiS is looking for a way to curb the abortion law. They promised their supporters and the bishops that they would do it, and now they want to keep their word. The tribunal is completely subordinate to the government, so there is no doubt as to its decision – claims Barbara Nowacka who represents the “Save Women 2017” committee.  

Details from the story:

  • The current Polish abortion law is one of the strictest in the world.
  • 1100 legal abortions were conducted in Poland in 2016. The number of illegal procedures is estimated to be 50-100 thousand annually.
  • The goal of PiS is to curb the abortion law so that the procedure will be practically illegal in the country.
  • Half a million Poles have signed the project of the bill which proposes to liberalize the law. Each year more and more Poles express a liberal view on abortion.
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