Following its election victory in October 2015, Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) has been on an offensive that has left many people, both inside and outside of the country, concerned about the future of Polish democracy. The blitzkrieg of ‘good change’ (PiS’s campaign slogan) included effectively paralysing the Constitutional Tribunal – which sparked protests across the country – taking over the public media, and a major reshuffling of the administration.
On Saturday 9 April thousands of people demonstrated across Poland against the proposed ban on abortion. The demonstrations were called by the Reclaim Choice Coalition (Porozumienie Odzyskać Wybór) which recently united several feminist and left-wing organisations in resistance to the proposed changes. The protests followed the previous week’s demonstrations called by the Razem, also attended by thousands in the country’s major cities.
The proposed ban on abortion was put forward by an ultra-Catholic pro-life think tank, Ordo Iuris, and is supported by Prime Minister Beata Szydlo as well as the head of the ruling party Law and Justice Jaroslaw Kaczynski and the Polish Catholic hierarchy.
The current law or the so-called 1993 ‘compromise’ is already one of the strictest in Europe and only allows women to terminate pregnancy in cases of serious foetus malformation, threats to the woman’s health or life and in cases where pregnancy resulted from a criminal act such as rape or incest. The proposal removes the possibility to terminate pregnancy even in these circumstances and, if implemented, it will force women to give birth regardless of any threat to their wellbeing associated with it. Women will be forced to birth seriously malformed foetuses, the lives of which will end soon after, often in great pain. The proposal will force victims of sexual violence to give birth regardless of the psychological and physical harm it will cause. It will also affect underage victims who are not biologically ready for pregnancy. The new law would introduce prison sentence of up to five years for those who terminate a pregnancy, including pregnant women. Cases of abortion performed to prevent a ‘direct threat’ to a woman’s life would be exempt. However, the definition of ‘direct threat’ would be likely to exclude chronic illnesses such as cancer, the treatment of which would be withheld during pregnancy. Women who miscarried will be put under additional stress by a formal investigation if the circumstances are deemed suspicious by the authorities. The legislative changes would also disincline women from reporting rape and sexual assault.
Importantly, the proposal repeals the obligations of the local governments to provide adequate prenatal care as established by the previous legislation. Such changes will limit or in some cases prevent access to necessary medical services. Up until now, prenatal testing allowed for early diagnoses of foetus malformation and continued care or alternatively constituted the legal basis for abortion.
video (in polish) :