On October 23rd, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal enacted a judgement that
voided the 1993 Law on abortion. The part which formerly allowed the termination
of pregnancy within the first 12 weeks; in case of serious or irreversible fetus’
malformations or syndromes was revoked. The right of abortion remains valid in
only two cases: the first is rape and the second is if childbirth could become life
threatening for the woman.
The Verdict came in response to an appeal made by about a hundred
parliamentarians according to which the termination of pregnancy in the event of
fetal malformations violates the principle of the Constitution, which stands to protect the life of every individual.
According to Antonina Lewandowska, a Polish sexual and reproductive health and
human rights activist; “98% of legal abortions performed in Poland to date are due
to fetal malformations”. She went on to confirm that, up to 200,000 women are
forced to resort in either a clandestine abortion or to go abroad, usually in Czech
Republic, Germany, Slovakia or Ukraine, where it is practiced.
There have been a few attempts to introduce the ban on abortion in previous years
(2016 and 2018); however, due to the successful protests of many feminist
movements the government seemed to have given up. Nonetheless those protests
were eventually overridden by the decision of the Constitutional tribunal of Poland,
with the help of The Political Right Wing Party (PiS) and the Catholic Church both
promoting a Pro-Life campaign.
Let’s start from the beginning: in the spring of 2016: a few months after the PiS’
electoral victory in October 2015, the Polish Bishops Conference released a
statement, that was read in all churches, inviting the parliament to change the law
on abortion. Promulgated also in 1993, during the presidency of Lech Wałęsa,
it was already very restrictive and the termination of pregnancy for women’s
choice was not allowed. This time, the right-wing government had decided to
abandon the parliamentary path to delegate the issue to the Constitutional Tribunal,
which is composed for the most part of conservative judges, many of whom are
appointed by the government itself. During this time Poland was also denounced by
the European Commission which in 2018 had referred Poland for the violation of the
independence of its Supreme Court.
In October of 2020, the Polish Constitutional Court made it illegal to terminate a
pregnancy in the event of a malformation of the fetus, but the government never
published the sentence in the Official Gazette, despite having announced it would
do so on November 2nd. The reason for the government’s failure in this, according
to many, is down to the fact that numerous demonstrations have taken place in the
country in the last three weeks.
Police helicopters are being captured patrolling the skies and even groups belonging to extreme right movements have joined the
ongoing protests in the streets. Thousands of protestors have been gathering in
costumes, some dancing to the rhythm of techno music and bagpipes, with the red
symbol of the Polish women’s strike flashing on the facade of the large Soviet Palace
of Science and Culture, as they proclaim “This is a war”.
‘Women’s Strike’ the group leading the protests, has outlined areas beyond the
right to abortion that they believe need urgent change. They have included wider
rights for women and the LGBT community, the push for a separation of the state
from the influential Polish Catholic Church and have required more funds for health
care and better working conditions for young people. They are even demanding the
resignation of the President of the ruling party and of PiS, “Jarosław Kaczyński”.
What was meant to be a somewhat controversial verdict has instead become an
epochal event for this deeply Catholic and traditionalist Country.
Policemen and numerous doctors can be seen in droves protesting in the squares.
Individuals from Covid “red zones”, hang white sheets from their balconies
expressing their discontent, groups of mothers with strollers take the streets and
defy the curfew by blocking Warsaw traffic. The protest, which has now crossed
national borders, has gathered support from women in various different European
countries, demonstrating in the streets and in front of embassies.
Another concern for Kaczyński, comes from Google; in Poland the most searched
word this year, above lockdown and coronavirus, was “Apostazja”, this is the
repudiation, the denial of one’s own religion, meaning a significant blow to the
Polish bishops who had welcomed with great satisfaction the decision to make the
termination of pregnancy illegal effectively prohibiting all abortions: the choice to
intervene in political life, weaving a special relationship with the PiS, has taken a toll
on the relationship between the church and the people. With many cases of sexual
abuse of minors covered by the hierarchies in the past, The Polish people are beginning to detach themselves from the church, adding to the process of secularization.
In an unprecedented move in the deeply Catholic country, people also protested
inside churches and left their slogans with spray cans on the outside walls.
Furthermore, Kinga Duda, daughter of President Andrzej Duda has sided against the
ban, saying she cannot accept it. She appointed an unpaid counselor to her father
on social issues and she said any pregnant woman whose fetus may die at any
moment at birth should be able to decide what to do, as she will face the
consequences of her decision for the rest of life.