Poland is in protest after Constitutional Tribunal effectively bans legal abortions

Protests erupt in Warsaw as the Polish Constitutional Tribunal implement strict anti-abortion laws. Experts fear that the new laws will see Polish women seek illegal, dangerous means of terminating pregnancy.

Poland has some of the strictest bodily autonomy laws in all of Europe. Over the week (Oct. 22), the highest court in the country effectively eradicated abortion rights, excluding terminations based on health defects. The ruling was declared “a sad day for women’s rights” by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights.

The new ruling, which cannot be appealed, will see an almost total ban of abortions on the basis of “the right to life.” The news has since seen fierce protests break out in the Polish capital of Warsaw.

Poland is predominantly a Roman Catholic country, with some of the most restrictive abortion legislation in all of Europe. The move to further limit access to legal abortions had been pursued by Poland’s conservative government for many months and has sparked fierce backlash from women’s rights campaigners and human rights watchdogs.

Despite the waves of public outcry, conservative leaders have implemented a new ruling that will deem termination based on medical defects unconstitutional. Currently, 98% of permitted abortions in Poland are carried out as a result of fetal defects, meaning that these stricter laws will nearly ban all legal abortions in the country. Terminations will only be allowed if the pregnancy involves cases of rape, incest, or medical danger to the mother’s life.

The tribunal’s president, Julia Przylebska, adamantly defended the ruling to the press. As the Polish constitution guarantees a right to life, Przylebska stated that terminating a pregnancy based on health was a “directly forbidden form of discrimination.”

However, there are concerns that despite the rulings, women will still seek abortions through illegal or dangerous practices, rather than being conducted by medical professionals. As well as this, even in circumstances that are deemed constitutional for pregnancy termination, Abortion Without Borders’ Karolina Wieckiewicz says that it can often “takes weeks, sometimes months,” to obtain a legal abortion in the country. “Some people decide to risk the battle in Poland; others look for alternatives.”

“The European Union does not want to get involved,” said Barbara Nowacka, an opposition lawmaker who had co-written a letter appealing to the tribunal’s president, Ms. Przylebska. “We are left to fend for ourselves, with a barbarian law.”

Soon after the court ruling made headlines on Thursday, riots erupted in the capital of Warsaw. Tensions mounted to the point where police officials used physical force and pepper spray against staunch protestors. According to BBC News, 15 people were detained. The riots were broken up in the early hours of Friday morning, but further rallies took place over the weekend as calls remain to revoke the ruling.

Prior to fortifying its laws around abortion, it was estimated that 100,000 Polish citizens already travel abroad to gain access to abortions on a weekly basis. Experts argue that this number is only expected to rise following Thursday’s ruling.

“It’s inhuman, it’s despicable honestly to make anyone carry a pregnancy to term,” Polish sexual and reproductive health and rights activist Antonina Lewandowska concluded, “especially if the foetus is malformed.”