How Poland’s new abortion decision could be reflected around the world

Tens of thousands of protesters violated COVID restrictions to fight a new High Court ruling that almost completely banned abortion in Poland.

Protesters took to the streets for the seventh day in a row, blocking main roads and bridges and chanting anti-government slogans. Some protesters dressed as characters from Handmaid’s Tale took part in protests which saw churches vandalized and masses disrupted on Tuesday.

It was seen as a targeted attack on the Catholic Church, seen as an ally of the Polish government. The protests began last Thursday following a Constitutional Court ruling that no longer allows women to terminate their pregnancies due to fetal abnormalities and only legalizes abortion in cases of rape, incest or threats to a woman’s health.

Women’s rights groups have expressed fury at the move, calling it a “war on women”. The protests have since turned into a broader response against the government, which is accused of undermining the rights of women and minorities. Some women opposed to the decision have staged a “strike” and are expected not to go to work, school and household chores. It is a protest inspired by a 1975 women’s strike in Iceland in 1975.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Tuesday: “What is happening in public space, these acts of aggression, these attacks, this barbarity, is unacceptable. I do not give my consent to attack people, churches and the right to defend the values ​​of others. “

But Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the ruling Law and Justice Party, urged his supporters to defend the churches of the predominantly Catholic nation, potentially paving the way for clashes with protesters. Once the court ruling comes into force, dismissals in Poland will only be allowed in cases of rape or incest, or if the mother’s health is in danger.

Polls show there was little support for tighter restrictions, with fetal abnormalities accounting for the overwhelming majority of legal abortions in Poland – around 1,000 last year. Women’s groups claim that between 80,000 and 120,000 Polish women travel abroad each year to terminate their pregnancy.

Legal abortions are often delayed by long waits and doctors refuse to perform them, often for religious reasons. Doctors can also refuse to prescribe contraception for the same reason.

Woman holds banner as she protests on Day 6 against Constitutional Court ruling on tightening abortion law in UNESCO-listed main square in Krakow
Omar Marques / Getty

In the court’s decision, which cannot be appealed, the president of the court, Julia Przylebska, said that allowing abortions for fetal anomalies legalizes “eugenic practices” and that, the Polish constitution guarantees the protection of human life, termination based on fetal health amounted to “a form of directly prohibited discrimination”.

Protesters are asking the court to overturn the decision. Amnesty International, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Human Rights Watch all called the court ruling “a violation of women’s rights.”

Esther Major, Senior Research Advisor at Amnesty International, said: “This judgment is the result of a coordinated and systematic wave of attacks on women’s human rights by Polish lawmakers and represents their latest attempt to ban the abortion in Poland Legal abortion bans do not prevent abortion or reduce abortion rates – they only serve to harm women’s health by pushing abortions underground or forcing women to travel to foreign countries to access the abortion care they need and are entitled to.

“While all women can be affected by this cruel judgment, marginalized groups of women who cannot afford to travel will disproportionately suffer the consequences of the actions of judges.”

It is feared that the decision may even have far-reaching implications for other countries. On the same day the court’s ruling was handed down, Poland joined the United States, Brazil, Uganda, Hungary, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and a handful of other countries to sign the Geneva Consensus Declaration, a declaration challenging the right to abortion.

In the United States, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed the anti-abortion declaration of which he said: “defends the unborn child and reiterates the vital importance of the family”. He came a few days before justice Amy Coney Barrett was officially confirmed at the Supreme Court, occupying the seat formerly occupied by justice Ruth bader ginsburg. Barrett was confirmed on Monday by a 52-48 Senate vote, the first time in 151 years a justice has been upheld without the support of the minority party.

Donald Trump has previously pledged to appoint judges with the intention of overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that upheld the constitutional right to abortion. As Barrett prepares to speak out on a number of issues, rights groups fear for the future of Roe v. Wade. A devout Catholic, Barrett has personal views against abortion, and groups opposing pregnancy termination have defended her appointment.

She signed an ad in 2006 that called for the cancellation of Roe v Wade and called her “barbaric.” Barrett said she would not let her personal beliefs about abortion affect her work as a judge.

Poland: national strike against the decision of the abortion court
Woman wears protective mask as thousands join in on seventh day of protests in Warsaw
Omar Marques / Getty

In the Republic of Ireland, until May 2018, the Eighth Amendment imposed an almost total ban on abortion and severely restricted maternity care, giving the pregnant person and the fetus equal legal status.

In 2018, Irish voters chose to legalize abortion in a landmark referendum, and in January last year the country opened its new abortion services. Women can request an abortion for up to 12 weeks, but must have it certified by a doctor and wait three days before having the procedure. In the case of fatal fetal abnormalities, the time limit for access to abortion is extended, but only if two doctors certify that the death will occur within 28 days of the birth.

Campaigners say there is still a long way to go, with many in Ireland still struggling to access abortion due to lack of arrangements, time restrictions on layoffs and a lasting legacy of shame.

In England, Scotland and Wales, abortion is legal under certain conditions. The Abortion Act 1967, as amended by the Fertilization and Human Embryology Act 1990, allows a licensed physician in a specially licensed hospital or clinic to perform an abortion, but only if two doctors agree that a woman is less than 24 weeks pregnant and that it is necessary to prevent damage to the physical or mental health of the woman or one of her existing children.

Abortion is only legal after 24 weeks if there is a serious threat to the health or life of the woman, or if there is a substantial risk that the child will be born with physical or mental abnormalities. and be severely disabled. Abortion was not decriminalized in Northern Ireland until October 2019, when sections 58 and 59 of the Personal Offenses Act 1861 – which made abortion a criminal offense – were repealed.

Previously, abortion was only allowed in Northern Ireland if a woman’s life was in danger or if there was a risk of permanent and serious damage to her physical or mental health. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas) warns Britain “cannot be content with reproductive rights” and says hard-won victories “can be reversed at the whim of a small handful”.

“Currently, most women in Britain who experience an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy will be able to access the care they need,” a spokesperson said. Newsweek. “We must not forget that abortion is still a crime, and any woman who terminates a pregnancy outside the terms of the abortion law of 1967, for example by using pills purchased online, can be sentenced to life imprisonment, and Westminster MPs still have the power to impose restrictions.

“The only way to permanently protect access to abortion care is to decriminalize abortion, removing the ability of politicians to control women’s reproductive rights, and that’s what we call it here in Britain. “


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Joseph Johnson

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