Polish government acts to ban abortion despite overwhelming public opposition and protests

Warsaw protest October 2020 against a ban on abortions

By Abortion Rights

On 27 January Poland confirmed into law the constitutional ruling for an almost complete ban on abortion and will come into effect almost immediately.

Poland already had one of Europe’s strictest abortion laws. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party have been intent on banning even the limited abortion rights Poland had and had made several attempts in the past.

On 22 October, the constitutional tribunal ruled that terminations in instances of severe foetal anomalies, which accounted for all but about 30 of the 1,110 abortions performed legally in Poland last year, were “incompatible” with the constitution.

The decision by the court’s 15 pro-PiS judges, (ruling Law & Justice party) allow terminations only in instances of rape, incest and when the woman’s life is at risk represents just a tiny fraction of cases.

Unprecedented protests

Protestors were on the streets immediately after the law was announced in January. Following the ruling in October more than 400,000 people took to the streets to protest the ruling as part of a ‘women’s strike’. One night 100,000-marched in Warsaw. People came from all over the country to demonstrate in the capital.

The response was unprecedented, the biggest street demonstrations in more than three decades, across dozens of cities. The protests have even reached PiS-supporting small towns. For example, in the northern town of Nowy Dwór Gdański, farmers in a long line of tractors supported a road blockade with the slogan “Fight the virus, not women”.

These mass protests across Poland went on night after night for weeks, defiant despite facing brutal crackdowns by police using tear gas, as well as violence from far-right thugs. The level of support in the face of this prompted the government to initially postpone publishing the court’s decision in the official journal until now.

The scale of protest shows the level of support for the right to choose and secondly that there’s no intention of just rolling over on the issue. By pushing this through the government have created a point of profound disagreement with the population.

The population is broadly pro-choice – 69% of Polish people support the women’s strike and a third of PiS supporters, according to recent polling.

Approximately 200,000 Polish women have abortions either illegally or abroad each year. Abortion Without Borders helped 5,000 Polish women in their first year.

But since October some hospitals in Poland have already turned away women seeking abortions even though thecourt ruling has not yet taken effect.

The Federation for Women and Family Planning has received dozens of calls from distressed women, including from those turned away from clinics despite having pre-existing appointments on the grounds of foetal abnormalities.

“Most are too distraught to even speak to me,” said the group’s executive director, Krystyna Kacpura. “They start talking and break down in tears. These women need psychological help, their mental health is in very poor shape.”

The federation appealed to the mayor of Warsaw to urge hospitals to reverse their policies, and subsequently some, including the Bielański hospital and the Orłowskiego hospital in Warsaw, made a U-turn.

Abortion Rights gives our full support to activists in Poland who have highlighted how important it is to defend the right to abortions and to demonstrate such broad support.

Chair of the campaign Kerry Abel emphasised ‘We know how hard this is, we are sending our utmost good wishes and solidarity to those fighting for their rights in Poland, to keep protesting. We know, where bans and restrictions happen in one part of the world, it re-emboldens those who want to take abortion away elsewhere, so this has wider significance to us all.’

This article was originally published here by Abortion Rights.