Nationwide protests continue over the changes to abortion laws in Poland
In October, Poland’s top court ruled that abortions in cases of foetal defects are unconstitutional.
Poland’s abortion laws were already among the strictest in Europe. This means terminations are set to be banned in almost all circumstances except for in cases of incest, rape or if the mother’s health is at risk, factors that make up just 2% of legal terminations in Poland.
Abortion in cases of severe foetal disabilities accounts for 98% of terminations in Poland. Last year, members of parliament of the ruling right-wing nationalist Law and Justice party launched a legal challenge against the 1993 law. The Law and Justice party nominated the majority of the court’s judges.
There were just over 1,000 legal pregnancy terminations in Poland last year, though women’s rights groups estimate between 80,000 and 120,000 Polish women a year seek an abortion abroad.
Senior research adviser at Amnesty International Esther Major describes the ruling as “the result of a coordinated, systematic wave of attacks on women’s human rights by Polish lawmakers and represents their latest attempt to ban abortion in Poland”.
The court ruling has caused the largest protests since the fall of communism for over two weeks that defy lockdown rules on gatherings of more than five people. A huge march in Warsaw this weekend, estimated to have been attended by 100,000 people, saw pro-choice protestors clash with far-right activists. The symbol of a red lightning bolt, worn on masks, faces, clothes and signs, has come to represent the pro-choice protestors.
On Tuesday, a government official said leaders were taking time to debate the ruling and find a solution as the Monday deadline for the decision to be published passed. “There is a discussion going on, and it would be good to take some time for dialogue and for finding a new position in this situation, which is difficult and stirs high emotions,” said Michal Dworczyk, the head of the prime minister’s office.
In 2016 and 2017, the government previously tried to ban all abortion, prompting huge street protests and causing them to back down.
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