Poland’s Top Constitutional Tribunal Bans Abortion: What Happened Next?

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Image Source: The Guardian

Protests broke out in the streets of Poland, after the country’s constitutional court ruling on October 22. The 27-year old law allowing abortions only in exceptional cases is now invalidated.

A Complete Ban on Abortion

The constitutional tribunal has struck the abortion law in cases of severe foetal abnormalities, thereby imposing a total ban on legal abortions. Poland was one of the European countries having restrictive abortion laws. It went one step ahead on tightening the abortion rules after this decision. Now, abortions are only permitted in cases of rape, incest, or if there is any threat to the mother’s life.

According to the court, termination based on any abnormality of the unborn child is unconstitutional. It violates the country’s constitution, which guarantees the protection of human life. It is also held as a forbidden form of discrimination against the foetus. The ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) along with the lawmakers backed this decision. They want to ensure that foetuses with abnormality including down syndrome can live.

Background of the Decision

Before, women can only abort the child in cases of severe foetal defects, the risk to her health & rape, or incest. Data reveals, in the year 2019 around 1,100 legal abortions were performed in the country. The majority of them were due to foetal deformity. This category is only a small fraction. An estimated 80,000 to 1,20,000 polish women travel abroad to seek an abortion or have them done illegally. The reason behind this is the unwillingness of the doctors to perform the termination. Most of the doctors refuse to perform a legal abortion and for prescribing contraception due to religious grounds. Although the ruling has not yet come into force, many hospitals have already stopped carrying out abortions. Lengthy waits & restrictive legal grounds are also the reason why women get their abortion abroad.

The tribunal reasoned that the “conceived child” has the right to an already exciting life. No one can kill a conceived child just because his/her birth would reduce a woman’s comfort in leading her life. Julia Przylebska who is a close friend of the deputy PM of the country is also president of the tribunal. She included in the ruling that allowing abortions in cases of foetal abnormalities legalized ‘eugenics practices’ with regard to an unborn child. This thereby denies it the respect & protection of human dignity.

It is yet ironic, that the tribunal debated about the rights of an unborn child but not with regard to a living woman, who will be forced to give birth to her child with severe defects and bear the traumatic consequences later.

The Intent Behind Such a Decision

This is not the first time when the ruling party attempted to impose a blanket ban on abortion. The year 2016 and 2017 observed the same situation, where the ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) tried to restrict abortion laws. Although, they were met with massive protests.

The move was calculated by the ruling party before asking the highest court of the country to review the 1993 abortion law. They were pretty sure that during the period of the pandemic, there won’t be any enormous protests against such a decision, but it all backfired them. It is not hidden, that Poland is a largely conservative country. Roman Catholicism is interwoven deeply within the identity of the country. This ruling seems to be a reward to the Catholic churches & ultraconservative groups in the country.

Mateusz Morawiecki, prime minister of the backed the court’s decision on tightening the abortion law. He even stated that protests in the streets of Poland amount to acts of vandalism & aggression. Further, he added that it should not take place amidst the pandemic situation. The covid situation in the country is taking a hike, each day. Even the President of the country was tested positive for Covid-19. Many groups protest that such a move may divert the attention of citizens from the failure of the government to control the situation. The country’s president Andrzy Duja and the deputy PM, Jaroslaw Kaczyński also welcomed the decision.

According to an opinion poll, less than 15% of the citizens, voted in favour of tightening the abortion rules. While the majority of them were demanding a more liberalized abortion law. The government is criticized for unlawfully using the tribunal, as the majority of the members of the tribunal are elected by the ruling party itself. Many protests that the ruling party has largely erased the independence of the judiciary, so they can achieve any agenda which could not be done via legislative power.

The party has always been a defender of traditional Catholic values and label their opponents as anti-polish & anti-christian. According to them, polish women should only be wives & mothers. They depict women’s right groups as dangerous agents of liberal, western propaganda. They strongly oppose same-sex marriage. The Catholic churches across the country, have pressurized the government for a long time now, to tighten & end abortion. So, this move seems to be a political & religious move.

Protests Across the Country

Despite the danger of coronavirus, Polish citizens continue their protests against the court’s decision, banning abortion. Such protests have not been seen since the Solidarity Movement in the 1980s. The crowd is filled with anger towards the conservative ruling party and is dominated by youth.

The banning of legal abortions in the country violates the human & reproductive rights of a woman. The decision is facing a lot of criticism. Many critics have considered the court as illegitimate. It is ineffective & has no legal consequences. The taking over of the courts by the ruling party has led to a controversy. Reports reveal, out of 15 judges in the court, 14 were elected by the ruling party itself & few were chosen in a way that violates the Polish law.

Protesters argue banning legal abortions are in no way going to reduce the number of terminations. It will only lead to women’s ending their pregnancies is unsafe & underground environment. Most of the protests are peaceful but some of them were violent as well. Few were caught with a knife and baton. There are major demonstrations before the party (PiS) offices and churches. Protesters are seen with placards & banners bearing the symbol of a lightning bolt, demanding the reversal of the court’s ruling. Where some protesters are arrested, some police authorities were also seen using pepper spray to disperse the crowds. Many human rights groups & activists are criticizing the ruling of the Polish court. Women in the country have been the victims of the absence of rule of law for a long time. This decision means freezing the issue for years, accepting that the life & dignity of women are less important than the life of a foetus.

Conclusion

Poland’s constitutional tribunal legal abortions in cases of foetal abnormality. amounts to almost 96% of legal abortions in the country. Less than 2% of women terminate their pregnancies due to cases of rape & incest. This means the decision has almost put a complete ban on legal abortion in the Roman Catholic country. Women’s rights in the country have always bothered the conservative government and the churches.

This decision will only lead to women seeking abortions either in a foreign country or underground which is more dangerous & unsafe. The decision will affect citizens, who are not financially stable to take care of a special child. It will endanger their rights & health. The conservative thought of the ruling party is violative of the fundamental rights of citizens of the country. Although, the ruling will only take effect from the day of its publication in the Journal of Laws, what the rebellious protests in the country will lead to, is yet to be seen.


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