Protests in Poland as abortion ban enacted

Vanessa Gera
·2-min read

A near-total ban on abortion has taken effect in Poland and triggered a new round of nationwide protests three months after the constitutional court ruled that the abortion of congenitally damaged foetuses is unconstitutional.

Led by a women's rights group, Women's Strike, people poured onto the streets of Warsaw, where they demonstrated in front of the court, and in other cities and towns on Thursday for the second night.

In Warsaw the atmosphere was tense and police detained three people who they said "had invaded the territory of the Constitutional Tribunal."

Protesters insisted that women should have the right to decide about their own bodies. One banner in Rzeszow stated that an "abortion ban is discrimination against the poorest," because poorer women will not be able to travel abroad for abortions, as Polish women who can afford to already do.

Poland's top human rights official denounced the further restriction of what was already one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, calling it a tragedy for women.

"The state wants to further limit their rights, risk their lives, and condemn them to torture," said Adam Bodnar, the human rights commissioner, or ombudsman, whose role is independent from the Polish government.

"This offensive is opposed by civil society."

The only remaining legal justifications for abortion under Polish law are if the woman's life or health is at risk or if a pregnancy results from rape or incest.

To date, about 98 per cent of all legal abortions in the country - of which there were 1110 in 2019 - were performed on the grounds of foetal malformations.

Poland's constitutional court on Wednesday issued a justification of a controversial October ruling that bans abortions in cases of foetuses with congenital defects, even ones so severe that there is no chance of survival upon birth.

The government then published the court's ruling in a government Journal of Laws. Those steps were the formal prerequisites required for the new law to enter into force.

Women's rights activists consider the new law to be draconian.

The protesters are demanding a full liberalisation of the abortion law and the resignation of the government, neither of which seem likely in the short term.