By Malgorzata Rudnicka | Contributor
Thousands of Polish citizens have been fighting for the liberalisation of women’s rights in the country. The protests that took place in the last months of 2020 were the biggest demonstrations in the country since communist rule. Recently, Poland has been experiencing a new wave of protests after the Constitutional Tribunal, led by judge Julia Przyłębska, issued a justification of the ruling from 22nd October 2020. The Constitutional Tribunal pronounced abortion in cases of fetal defects, including lethal, as unconstitutional. On the 27th of January 2021, the abortion ban officially come into force after being published in the Journal of Laws.
In 2019, 1110 abortions were documented in Poland. For comparison, in the same year, in England and Wales, that number reached over 200,000.
Terminating a pregnancy in Poland has always been difficult due to strict regulations. Before the new ruling, abortion in Poland was possible only in three situations – in case of rape, fetal defects, and when the mother’s life was at risk. According to Poland’s Ministry of Health, 1074 abortions out of 1110 done in Poland in 2019, were terminations due to fetal defects. This means that with the new abortion laws, this medical procedure will be nearly non-existent; especially considering the conscience clause.
In the eyes of Polish law, a health provider is allowed to refuse the procedure based on his personal beliefs. It does not apply solely to abortion. The conscience clause can mean a refusal of receiving a contraceptive pill or the “morning-after” pill.
Now illegal abortions still continue in the country however; although the Polish Criminal Code specifies that both a woman and a person who terminated a pregnancy can face imprisonment, the “abortion underground” that operates in Poland, has continued. The extremely limited access to this medical procedure in the country makes many women go abroad. They usually choose destinations like Slovakia, the Czech Republic or Germany. Those who cannot afford that are likely to risk their health by making use of illegal procedures.
The protests that gathered hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Polish cities have been taking place in the middle of a global pandemic, reports suggest that most protestors have taken measures to prevent transmission during events.
Poland’s police performance has been strongly emphasised in the Polish media. “The police behaves in a truly professional manner.” said the Polish President, Andrzej Duda, reasoning that no one had died during protests.
These words of the head of state have provoked a strong public reaction. Critics claim that such words are irresponsible and allow for harsh police behaviour. Adam Bodnar, a Polish lawyer and an Ombudsman for Citizen Rights, said that a president, as a guardian of the constitution, should reprimand any humiliating or brutal behaviour towards citizens.
The last few months in Central Europe have politically focused on women’s rights. Although the banning of abortion not a new policy for the current Polish government under the Law and Justice party, the official decision of the Constitutional Tribunal seems to have been the last straw for many Polish citizens.
The All Poland Women’s Strike, led by Marta Lempart, has mobilised people of all age groups and genders, from big cities to tiny towns, to take it to the streets carrying red lightning bolts and banners. Providing women with information and help, different organisations make sure to fulfil one of the main mottos of the strike – “you will never walk alone”.
Despite the controversy Politico still polls the Law and Justice party at 34% of the vote share, 14% above opposition parties.
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