By Maja Matera | Contributor
On October 22, a Polish Constitutional Tribunal, led by judge Julia Przyłebska, ruled abortion in cases of foetal defects unconstitutional. These cases make up 98% of all terminations in Poland. The decision sparked a wave of protests.
A majority of the Constitutional Tribunal’s judges were nominated by the right-wing Law and Justice party. Critics argue the appointments break Polish law, which states that judges must be apolitical. Those critical of this decision argue that the ruling was done in a way that is unconstitutional itself.
On the same day, shortly after this verdict was made, the Polish Government signed the Geneva Consensus Declaration on Promoting Women’s Health and Strengthening the Family, which includes among other policies an international anti-abortion pact. The general public was not informed about this until after the agreement was signed.
The Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights Dunja Mijatovic tweeted:
“Removing the basis for almost all legal abortions in Poland amounts to a ban and violates human rights,” Dunja Mijatovic, Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, tweeted last week. https://t.co/vw1Kp4028I
— Dunja Mijatovic (@Dunja_Mijatovic) October 26, 2020
Now, along with Hungary and Belarus, Poland has one of the strictest abortion laws in Europe. Women’s rights groups estimate that between 80,000 and 120,000 Polish women seek abortions abroad each year.
When the aforementioned decision comes into effect, abortion will only be permitted in cases of rape, incest, or if the mother’s health is at risk. Some Pro-life activists would like to see the law go further, one prominent member Kaja Godek said in an interview with radio Zet that;
“There are countries and cultures in which rape victims are being killed. We are, as a matter of fact, very close to those cultures. A child conceived in a rape is also it’s victim. They have a right to be born.”
The decisions made recently by the Eastern European government triggered a series of protests in Poland and all over the world. Outside Polish consulates and embassies – in Reykjavik, London, Paris and Chicago to name a few – people have continued to protest the government’s decision.
Throughout the weekend of October 23-25, “black marches” were organised by the pro-women’s rights group often referred to as black protests, due to the black clothes worn to symbolise a feeling of grief for the loss of rights. In some cases the police force used tear gas and detained individuals. On Sunday, protesters occupied entrances to churches claiming that the clergy is at least partly responsible for the situation, since bishops and Catholic groups pressured the Law and Justice Party to impose the new law.
2016 saw similar waves of protests in Poland after another government restriction on abortion law.
Protesters have maintained rules of social distancing, says influencer Hania Sybula after participating in blocking the streets of the capital on October 26. Although whether this is true is unclear for all protests. In some parts of the country, police are reported to have joined the protesters.
Strajk Kobiet planned alternatives for those in quarantine or self-isolation. People have been playing music with open windows and putting up posters. Over 40,000 people checked-in on a Facebook event Remote Blockage to send emails to parliamentary representative who supported the anti-abortion act, expressing their discontent with their decision.
Moreover, they encourage people to donate funds to NGOs who provides medication for pharmacological abortion, which might soon be the only available way to terminate pregnancy in Poland. This method is still legal since a person cannot be prosecuted for terminating their own pregnancies.
Citizen actions are strongly supported by the left-wing party Lewica Razem, which prepared an emergency act that would abolish punishments for pregnancy terminations. Robert Biedroń, the Party’s representative in the European Union and vice-president of the European Parliament Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM). Biedroń has pushed for a resolution condemning the verdict of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal.
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