When Poland was under the Communists, and until 1993, abortions of all types were legal up to three months into pregnancy. Then the Catholic country banned all abortions with just four exceptions: pregnancies resulting from rape, ditto for incest, pregnancies that endangered the mother’s life, and when the fetus was abnormal. Yet even these legal abortions were nearly impossible to get, as doctors had (and still have) the right to refuse to do legal abortions. The result was that the country had very few legal abortions (1,100 in 2019), and almost all of those (1,074 according to the NYT article below) were for fetal abnormalities.
Most Polish women, stymied by the system and the difficulty of getting abortions, went to other EU countries—to places like Czechoslovakia. Estimates are that about 100,000 of these abortions, many paid for by the women themselves or by NGOs defending women, were performed yearly.
Now, however, the 98% of legal abortions in Poland performed because of deformed fetuses are about to be banned as well, making abortion effectively unavailable in that country. The NYT and BBC articles below (click on screenshots) tell the tale.
Although polls show that most Poles want to return the the three-months legal abortion system, the right-wing PiS (“Law and Justice Party”), which controls the government and much of the judiciary, along with nudges from the influential Catholic Church, has seen to it that the Constitutional Court declared abortions because of deformed fetuses illegal. (Poland has both a Supreme Court and a Constitutional Court, and the latter can declare laws unconstitutional without needing to rule on a court case.)
Here’s the basis for the decision, which of course smacks heavily of Catholic doctrine:
In the ruling, the tribunal’s president, Julia Przylebska, said that allowing abortions in cases of fetal abnormality legalized “eugenic practices with regard to an unborn child, thus denying it the respect and protection of human dignity.”
Because the Polish Constitution guarantees a right to life, she added, terminating a pregnancy based on the health of the fetus amounted to “a directly forbidden form of discrimination.”
In response, thousands of Polish citizens, many of them women, took to the streets, and, in an unprecedented act of near-blasphemy, even interrupted Catholic masses with their protests.
Now the law hasn’t yet taken effect, as it has to first be published in official government notices. That’s normally done almost instantly, but the government seems to have been taken aback by the protests and there’s been no publication yet. (Only once before was a constitutional decision not published and therefore didn’t become law.) Smart betting, however, is on the decision being published very soon. With the restrictions and the right of doctors to refuse to do the procedure, we’ll now see only a few dozen legal abortions per year in Poland.
This is what happens when a right-wing and repressive government (backed largely by the church) gets legal control of women’s reproduction. Sound familiar? Americans may be in for a similar situation if state after state tightens its abortion restrictions and the new Barrett court begins ruling on reproductive rights.
Poland is clearly contravening the will of the people on this issue. But in Poland, the will of the people means nothing when it’s contrary to the doctrines of the Catholic church.
Here’s a photo of anti-government demonstrations about abortions in 2016; the signs are very clever: