European Abortion Laws

By Georgina Hookway

*T/W// Mentions of R*pe and Assault

For decades, Europe has been leading the global trend of moving towards more permissive abortion laws, and in 2018, with Ireland, a traditionally very Catholic country, voting by a landslide to legalise abortion, it seemed that this trend was continuing. Despite this, there still remain countries in Europe with very restrictive access to abortion. For example, in Malta and Vatican City, abortion is banned under all circumstances. 

Poland was the first country in Europe to legalise abortion in circumstances of rape but has recently tightened their abortion laws. In 2015, a vote to completely ban abortion was rejected. Their laws are still incredibly strict, with abortion only being legal in cases of rape and incest, when the mother’s life is at risk, and if the foetus is irreversibly damaged. The final circumstance on the list, however, has now been ruled illegal, as of October 22nd, 2020.

The recent ruling in Poland was met with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets to share their outrage. Protests happened in towns and cities all over Poland, for days on end. Marches were organised, people attended sit-in demonstrations in Catholic churches, protestors campaigned outside government buildings, and in Warsaw an estimated 100,000 people gathered to protest. In other countries, protestors gathered outside Polish embassies to share their disapproval. The Polish government received a great deal of criticism, with UN human rights experts sharing their objections with the new abortion ruling. The protests were compared to the 2016 demonstration that took place over a very similar issue – Czarny Protest (Black Protest). Black Protest took place on 22nd September 2016, the day that the court debated whether to illegalise abortions under all circumstances. On October 3rd of the same year, women all over the country went on strike to oppose the proposed legislation; this was referred to as Black Monday.

The recent restrictions on abortion have put many in Poland at risk, as making abortion harder to access doesn’t make it less likely to happen. Very few legal abortions take place in Poland, and an estimated 98% of them are carried out due to defects in the foetus, which has now been banned. Women’s and abortion rights groups approximate that over 150,000 illegal abortions are being carried out in Poland every year, compared to just 1500 legal abortions. Polish people in need of an abortion are now being forced to travel to neighbouring countries or are having to resort to an illegal abortion in non-medical conditions, which is incredibly unsafe and dangerous. An estimated 78,000 deaths occur worldwide every year as a result of unsafe abortions. 

The majority of European countries currently have permissive legislation when it comes to abortion, although in some countries it took years of pressure and protesting to get there. One notable leader of the pro-abortion campaign in the UK was Stella Browne, a feminist and activist who fought for women to have the right to abortion and birth control. By creating a national conversation around the issue, which has been propelled by pro-choice activists and groups like Abortion Rights, abortion is now legal in the UK. 

With the recent ruling in Poland, it poses the question: has the world reached its progressive peak, and are we now as a society becoming more right-wing and reverting back to old-fashioned policies? In certain countries, it certainly seems so. With the growing number of immigrants and asylum seekers coming to Europe, xenophobia and an intolerance towards marginalised people have become increasingly frequent across the continent. Many countries are now voting in right-wing politicians, such as Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Boris Johnson in the UK, as well as Mateusz Morawiecki in Poland. With these right-wing politicians and their respective parties come more right-wing policies, such as more restrictive abortion laws. 

Despite the shift towards conservatism, young people are becoming increasingly left-wing. With numerous protests happening worldwide to combat injustice and outdated, oppressive policies and systems, social change may be on the horizon.

More information, as well as petitions can be found here: https://abortion-in-poland.carrd.co/

Advocates For Youth is a mutual aid group aiming to help those who can’t afford an abortion during the pandemic. Their website contains a list of information on abortion access, as well as places to donate to. They don’t have any Polish donation links, but they have plenty for other countries, primarily the USA. Information can be found here: https://advocatesforyouth.org/abortion-out-loud/mutual-aid-for-abortion-care-during-covid-19/

Abortion Support Network is a group that provides advice and financial help to those needing to travel abroad for an abortion. Support is available to people from countries such as Poland and Malta, where the abortion laws are very restrictive. More information can be found here: https://www.asn.org.uk/