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Poland’s draconian abortion ban: what does the recent delay in implementation mean for the country?

Article written by : Saulet Tanirbergen

With Poland still in the grips of a nearly three-week-long protest against a near-total ban on abortion, the government has decided to delay the publication of the court’s ruling. The publishing, which would typically occur on November 2nd, would put the law into full effect. The prime minister’s office claims that the delay came as a result of a need for more time and dialogue to ease the tensions in the Eastern European country.

On October 22nd, Poland’s constitutional tribunal ruled to outlaw a woman’s right to abort based on fetal abnormalities. The justification is used to perform 96% of the procedures in Europe’s most restrictive country with regard to abortion. The court cited the country’s constitution, which calls for protecting the life of every individual, in their reasoning to stop the “eugenic practices with regard to an unborn child”. However, many activists have claimed that it will only drive women to perform abortions underground and abroad for those who can afford it. “A sad day for women’s rights,” tweeted Dunja Mijatovic, the human rights commissioner in the Council of Europe. Under the new laws, women can only abort if it endangers their lives or in the case of rape or incest.

In response to these restrictions, nearly 100,000 protesters expressed their outrage on the streets of Warsaw. It seems like the decision has only added fuel to the fire felt by many citizens due to the government’s poor handling pandemic. Marcin Zaborowski of the Res Publica Nowa journal speculates that the abortion restrictions are a way to distract the public from the government’s management of the virus, which had been widely criticised. Slogans reading “I wish I could abort my government” reflect a growing frustration with those in power. However, such a show of dissent didn’t see a reversal of the ruling. In response, the government only made an allowance for abortions of fetuses with “lethal abnormalities”, the ban still standing for other disorders such as Down syndrome.

The recent protests highlight a growing divide in a country that’s growing more and more conservative. The July presidential election was called the slimmest election victory since the country’s independence in 1989 and elected Andrezej Duda, who’d been in power since 2015. Duda’s party, the Law and Justice Party (PiS), was criticised by many for its authoritarian and nationalistic rhetoric. The abortion ban is simply a reflection of the party’s judicial takeover, which packed the constitutional court with loyalists, and it’s ties with Poland’s immensely influential Catholic Church. In response to the protests ravaging the country, PiS party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski gave the following statement: “We must defend Polish churches, we must defend them at any price.”

The abortion ban is part of the increasingly conservative trend that continues to alienate Poland from the European Union (EU). Many have pointed out that Poland’s action shows a blatant disregard for EU’s human rights values. On November 5th, the EU has launched a provisional deal that will allow the majority of the states to impose sanctions on governments that breach the rule of law. This is part of a broader probe to invoke EU’s Article 7 on Poland for subverting the independence of its judicial system. Before now, Poland and Hungary have promised to protect one another from sanctions through the invocation of the veto. However, now that all that is needed is a “qualified majority”, member states can adopt sanctions proposed by the European Commission.


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