In the past week, thousands of people have taken to the streets in cities across Poland for days straight to protest the abortion ruling on October 22 by Poland’s Constitutional Court. The ruling banned all abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or cases when pregnancy poses an imminent danger to the mother’s life on the grounds that this choice is inconsistent with the constitution. More specifically, this law prohibits abortions in the cases of fetal disabilities, which accounts for 98% of the abortions performed in Poland. Amnesty International, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the Human Rights Watch have condemned this ruling, stating that it violates women’s human rights and will in fact inflict harm upon the physical and/or mental health of a woman. These groups have also called upon the European Commission and EU member states to address this “breach of rule of law and [its] impact on fundamental rights in Poland” because stripping women of their reproductive rights, as Poland has done, is “essential to upholding EU values.”
Although this decision remains shocking, it is not extremely radical considering the political situation in Poland over the past decade. In fact, numerous attempts to ban abortions in the country have occurred; however, this ruling seems particularly radical because it is the first successful, comprehensive ban. For instance, in 2016, the government considered a petition to entirely outlaw abortion; however, mass demonstrations put enough pressure on the Polish Parliament to reject this petition. Nevertheless, Poland’s current governing party, the Law and Justice Party, was able to implement this legislation due to the fact that this party elected the majority of judges in the Constitutional Court – for instance, the president of the Constitutional Tribunal, Julia Przyłębska, was appointed in 2016 based on the recommendation of the Law and Justice Party. Many believe that politics factored into this decision, suspecting that the new restrictions were enacted to help the Law and Justice party regain the favor of Catholic voters. Furthermore, the legislation change did not receive broad public support; in fact, women’s groups estimate that Polish women seek as many as 200,000 abortion procedures illegally or abroad each year.
It is a particularly turbulent time regarding women’s legal reproductive rights, not only in Poland, but across the globe. Campaigns in the United Kingdom have attempted to remove women’s right to screen their pregnancies for Down’s Syndrome, and Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the United States Supreme Court also poses a risk for women’s right to abortions, birth control, and IVF. It is essential to remain aware of these legislative changes throughout the world and advocate for rights to protect women’s reproductive health.