In recent days, a top court within Poland ruled that ending the life of a deformed foetus was unconstitutional, effectively making abortion illegal in almost any circumstances across the country.
Following the ruling by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, women no longer have the ‘right to choose’ in Poland, with termination of pregnancies only being permitted in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, or in cases of rape and incest – only around 2% of all cases.
As a heavily Catholic country – a religion that explicitly opposes abortion – Poland already had amongst the strictest abortion laws in Europe.
It is estimated that about 100,000 Polish women travel abroad each year in order to get around the tight restrictions, of what most European nations consider as a right.
Following the ruling, protests have erupted in major cities across the country, including Krakow, Lodz and Warsaw, the country’s capital.
It has been reported that police have been using tear gas and heavy force against what are believed to be peaceful protesters.
Hundreds of people marched from the Constitutional Tribunal Court to the home of Jaroslaw Kaczynski – who heads the governing Law and Justice party – to protest outside his house.
Whilst protests have now dispersed, there have been calls by women’s rights protesters for further demonstrations in the coming days.
The Law and Justice Party (PiS) are a right-wing and socially conservative party – whose social views are far more extreme than most socially conservative parties in Europe. They won a second term in office in October 2019, and have been shifting the country towards greater social conservatism since their renewed mandate.
Whilst the court decision was made independently, PiS’s stance is that taken by the court, with the party long opposing abortion, even for foetal defects within their platform. The case made its way to the Constitutional Tribunal following a legal challenge by the party against a 1993 law allowing abortion in cases of severe foetal disabilities.
The majority of the judges on the court were also appointed by PiS, meaning the decision was questionable in its neutrality and independence from the governing party in the legislature.
According to Antonina Lewandowska, a Polish sexual and reproductive health and rights activist, who spoke to the BBC, the defence of the 1993 law was based on UN rules outlawing torture. Protesters who gathered after the ruling carried signs bearing the words “torture”; it is possible that the ruling could breach the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), or European Union law.
The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, said the court’s decision was a: “sad day for women’s rights […] Removing the basis for almost all legal abortions in Poland amounts to a ban and violates human rights.”