Poland’s regressive abortion law hits vulnerable women hardest

The 22nd of October was one of the worst days for Polish women in 2020. It was decided by Poland’s top court that the law allowing abortion of foetuses with congenital defects is unconstitutional. The decision was backed by the leading party in the Polish government – PiS along with far-right party Konfederacja. The majority of the court’s judges were nominated by PiS, signalling the political nature of the court’s decision.

The abortion law in Poland is one of the strictest in the whole of Europe. Before the 22nd of October, Polish women were able to have an abortion in cases of rape or incest, if the mother’s health was at risk, or if the foetus has congenital defects. 

However, it was difficult to prove rape, incest or risk to the mother’s health in front of a judge. Even if the process was successful, the doctor chosen to undertake the abortion had the right to refuse without supplying information about other doctors who would conduct the procedure. In fact, in 2019 only 2% of abortions in 2019 were made because of rape, incest, or because the mother’s health was at risk. This means 98% of abortions in 2019 were undertake for reasons which will now be dismissed. 

Leah Hoctor, regional director for Europe at the Centre for Reproductive Rights, states that the decision made by the polish top court was a ‘violation of Poland’s obligations under international human rights treaties to refrain from retrogressive measures that roll back women’s rights to sexual and reproductive health care’.

The decision made by the top Polish court exacerbates the problems facing women. Polish women who have the funds still will be able to go abroad to make an abortion. The decision will impact the most vulnerable in society who cannot afford to travel abroad and won’t receive help from the government.  There are no government-financed psychologists available to talk to women who have given birth to stillborn children, nor enough financial support for parents with disabled children.

There was no referendum or decision from Polish society to implement this change. Many surveys showed that 56% of people who voted for PiS didn’t want the change in abortion’s law. The majority of the Polish people strongly disagree with the decision of the top court. That is why Polish citizens have decided to go to the street and protest despite the critical COVID-19 situation in the country. The public media, who are connected to the government, have claimed that only a few hundred people are protesting. Yet, photos and videos from Warsaw disprove the claim. Every day since the 22nd of October, people across Poland have been organising protests to show their disagreement.  They have support from the Polish Community Abroad which has organised many events such as gatherings in London and Manchester. 

Image source: Aleksander Ludwiczak

Basia Jankowiak