Poland already has some of the most draconian abortion laws in Europe, and on Thursday a constitutional tribunal ruled that one of the few exceptions to the ban – cases of severe foetal impairment – should also be made illegal. These cases, which hardline Catholic anti-abortion activists have called “eugenic abortion”, made up almost all of the small number of abortions performed legally in Poland.
The constitutional tribunal found that abortion in cases where “prenatal tests or other medical indications indicate a high probability of severe and irreversible foetal impairment or an incurable life-threatening disease” is a violation of the constitutional right to life. The country’s populist, socially conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government, which has been accused of eroding judicial independence, had packed the tribunal with loyalists.
The ruling came as Poland grapples with a second wave of coronavirus cases and restrictions limit the possibility for mass protests. On Friday, the prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, announced that restaurants and bars would close for two weeks and public gatherings would be limited to five people, as infections hit a new daily record of more than 13,600.
Despite the ban on gatherings, there were a number of protests planned for Friday evening and the weekend, with many emphasising that they would observe distancing measures. On Thursday evening, protesters in Warsaw gathered outside the home of Jarosław Kaczyński, the powerful deputy prime minister and PiS ideologue. Police used pepper spray against the protesters and detained 15 people.
In Łódź, a “funeral for women’s rights” was planned for Friday evening, while protesters promised to gather in Warsaw again. “In a few days, hell for women will begin in this country,” said the description for a Facebook protest event organised in the city of Gdańsk this weekend, in which participants were encouraged to block major traffic intersections.
Each year, thousands of Polish women seeking abortions are forced to travel to neighbouring countries. In previous years, attempts to tighten the already strict legislation led to a huge protest movement, with tens of thousands of women dressed in black marching through major Polish cities. Surveys showed that while society was split on liberalising abortion, only a small minority backed further tightening of the rules, and the PiS government backed away from supporting tougher restrictions after the protests in 2016.
“The government has evaded the essence of democracy – a wide public debate and consultations – and introduced a ban on such an abortion backdoor, using the subordinated constitutional tribunal,” said Zuzanna Rudzińska-Bluszcz, a candidate for the office of Poland’s human rights ombudsman, who has the support of more than 1,000 non-governmental organisations but has been blocked by the PiS-dominated parliament.
“The consequences will involve more human tragedies and the rapid growth of abortion underground. The judgment will…
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