Poland’s Anti-Abortion Debate

Sara Dix

The topic of abortion has been an important issue that many women are struggling with around the world as there are an increasing number of far-right groups that use it as an argument to support their ideology of a patriarchy. Women deserve to have the right to decide what is best for themselves as well as their unconceived children.

However, the far-right government in Poland is attempting to completely ban any abortion, even if the decision is based on the risk of a fetal deformity. This decision, made by the Constitutional Tribunal, has resulted in mass protests as it declared that abortions made in the case of fetal defects will be considered unconstitutional.

While there may be some ability to work around this new law, Poland’s current abortion law is already one of the strictest among European Union (EU) members besides Malta. This will have major implications for women who are looking to having an abortion and they may have to travel to other countries in order to have the possibility of getting one.

The current limitations and restrictions for abortions only includes cases of rape, incest, or when the pregnancy threatens the mother’s life, so the protests are essential for the livelihood of Polish women. The destructive consequences of a complete ban of abortions will be catastrophic.

The complete ban on abortions will effect the majority of all abortions within Poland as it was found that 98% of the abortions in 2019 were carried out within these cases.

The Polish government’s reasoning for the ban against abortions is also unclear and vague as to what constitutes as protecting human life and whether a fetus is considered a human being.

From the historical perspective, Poland has a unique perspective on abortion. It can be attributed by the fact that legal abortion existed for forty years under communism and so it was based on instrumentalist and needs-based approaches rather than the concept of rights.

Not only was it believed that, as a result of being a product under communism, there was no need for a woman’s movement but gender equality was not considered to be a part of the strong cultural traditions within Polish society.

Poland has frequently flip-flopped between legalizing and de-legalizing abortions since 1932 and this inconsistency has a major impact on the struggles in the modern day. The mass protests against the Constitutional Tribunal’s recent decision reveals the continuous struggle that women in Polish society face.

When the ruling was first announced in October 2020, it was followed by a month of protests that had not been witnessed since the collapse of communism in 1989. The timing of the decision furthered the anguish and was further accentuated by the current pandemic and the economic recession that has negatively impacted the Polish population and revealed gender disparities.

The lead protest organizer of Women’s Strike, Marta Lempart, stated that “this decision is a declaration of war” and considering that during the revolution against communism, women were also an important force for Poland’s independence.

However, on the other end of the spectrum, far-right supporting groups and lawmakers support the ruling and legal enforcement of it. A Polish member of the European Parliament, Beata Kempa, even stated that abortions should be prohibited, even with the case of fetal abnormalities and that the unborn child has its own rights to live.

Karolina Pawlowska, from the Ordo luris international law centre, stated that by having a ban on all abortions, it will mean that there will no longer be “discrimination against children who are sick or disabled”. But this is not a viable reason for all cases as fetal defects are not the only causes for getting an abortion.

It does not account for pregnancies caused by rape, pregnancies that put the mother’s life and health at risk, but also for specific circumstances such as if the mother is unable to financially or emotionally support the child once it is born.

Unfortunately, as a result of having strong ties with the Catholic Church, the government attempted to cast the abortion debate as an attack on the church, thus an attack on the people. Since it has been a long contested topic, it has really emphasized the division within Polish society between the traditional and religious values and the more secular, open-minded values.

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