Poland bans more legal abortions, making the country nearly abortion-free

October 26, 2020 • 9:00 am

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:


h/t: Malgorzata

68 thoughts on “Poland bans more legal abortions, making the country nearly abortion-free

  1. Protection of human dignity they say. How warped is that thinking. Looks like Poland is headed in the same direction as us, back to the stone age.

    1. One thing’s for sure: the RCC has no dignity since it has sanctioned the deaths of millions of Jews over the last 2000 years.

    2. Since human dignity was conceived of as a Christian concept, why should it not be compatible with traditional Christian teachings?

        1. I suppose you can make a secular humanist case for human dignity, but I think it is built on quicksand. Christianity can be consistent if you allow for mysteries.

          The traditional justification for human dignity has been that God made man in his own image, and imbued him with an immortal soul. This unfalsifiable assertion suggests that even the most impaired member of our species has an immaterial, innate worth that must not be denied by anybody.

          The fear of anti-abortionists that this worth will be denied once abortion becomes more accepted is not wholly unfounded, as Peter Singer conceded. He tried to make a secular case for abortion and ended up justifying eugenics and infanticide. These ideas are accepted by secular humanists like Dawkins, Pinker and co., but can hardly be reconciled with human dignity.

          An interesting case study for human dignity as a concept is Germany. Their constitution puts that idea above any others. Consequently, it has been comparatively tricky there to pass legislation in favor of abortion rights, assisted suicide and stem cell research. Abortion is still against the law there, but not punished in certain situations.

            1. While they are too smart to blurt it out, much circumstancial evidence suggests it. I’ll give you a quick response from memory. I cannot recall Dawkins or Pinker ever saying a bad word about Singer. Nor atheist/humanist organizations, except for a German one who disinvited Singer after public pressure.

              Dawkins interviewed Singer for a program called “the root of all evil”. In it he not only called Singer “the most moral person I know”, but also agreed that killing a horribly diseased child should be acceptable. He had a minor twitter scandal after suggesting that a woman pregnant with a Down Syndrome child should abort and try again. Another erupted after he pointed out the fact that eugenics would work, which has been one of his hobby-horses at least since he wrote The Selfish Gene.

              Pinker wrote the article “the stupidity of dignity” in which he explicitly said that he regards human dignity as a nonsense. He has also been apologetic of infanticide in his Better Angels. Some time later, he participated in a panel with Steve Hsu, whose ill-concealed ambition to create super-intelligent and otherwise superior humans he found intriguing.

              1. Except that, in some extreme cases, “palliative care only” for a sick child can be the humane choice. (Parents routinely make that choice; and many adults make that choice about themselves.)

                And Dawkins’s comments about eugenics were specifically to distinguish “it would work” from “we should do it”.

              2. Singer never said or believed what you claim.

                Also, the things you believe to allow you to justify your position are all just wrong and are easily disproven.

                And I doubt that human dignity was conceived as a Cristian concept, otherwise Christians would have been 100% solid in opposition to slavery.
                Show that please.

                As for souls, that’s ridiculous.

          1. Actually Singer justifies infanticide only in extreme cases e.g. if a baby is born without a brain or is born with a condition that will make its life short and full of nothing but suffering.

            I think his argument is pretty good, frankly.

            1. Being a utilitarian, Singer goes further than you think. The threshold for a life worth living increases once there is an alternative to it, i.e. an aborted/killed child gets replaced by a new one that would otherwise not have existed.

          2. Do you think that maybe God started off as a separated sperm and egg, then combined to become he/she/it and lived a life span like we do, and has long since died?

            Consistency of the Bible is a myth. Judaism included concepts from numerous different religions that were modified over the centuries and were conveyed verbally. Eventually, what we call the Old Testament was written down and an effort was made to make the stories coherent, but some things are not. The New Testament books were written by different authors well after the death of Jesus to serve the needs of cultures existing at different times. They were not written by people who lived when Jesus did or by people who knew him. They were written by people who knew how to write, which the Disciples did not. There are a great many discrepancies between Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. Many other Christian books were written that were sacred texts to certain believers but they were excluded from the Christian canon and considered heresies.

            If you have not, I would like to suggest that you read the books of Bart Ehrman.

          3. That sprinkling of the magical fairy dust of an “immortal soul” over humans alone has (along with the toxic monotheistic books as instruction manuals for the destruction of them) resulted in the emiseration of billions of *animals* over the centuries.

            “Oh we can treat this pig, cow, cat, dog like garbage because it hasn’t a soul and the creator of the universe – no less – said we have dominion over them. Even told us how to kill ’em!” -type thinking.

            When you consider the limbic system of many animals is so close to our own, their emotions and capacity for suffering almost identical to us, this is a deeply flawed and actually evil system.

            D.A., J.D., N.Y.C.
            “Religion poisons everything” C.H.

            1. I just finished reading a book by Oliver Sacks, “The River of Consciousness”, that is copyright 2017 after he died in 2015. I had read almost all of the books by Sacks with the exception of those that came out just before or after he died. He is was, is, and always will be a favorite author. This book is mostly articles he wrote for the New York Review of Books. One of the articles is “Sentience: The Mental Life of Plants and Worms”. It, and the rest of the articles are well worth reading. I may read it again immediately.

      1. Christianity requires me to accept that I have done crimes in the eyes of God that deserve eternal punishment and to run snivelling from my responsibilities and hide behind Jesus.

        I don’t find that at all dignified.

        If it turns out that there is a god and if I have committed crimes against him/her/it, I will accept my responsibility. I will not let anybody else take the wrap for my crimes because that would make me a coward and would be about as undignified as anything I can think of.

        1. You’d have to make your case 🙂
          I don’t deny that Greek/Roman thinkers had an enormous influence on the enlightenment or that early Christianity did not promote human dignity as understood today.

          1. Human dignity was a concept before Christianity, and still is in non-Christian religions and non-religions.

            Protection of a conjoined sperm and egg deigned immediately to be human and deserving of all human rights is absurd. Perhaps we should take a step further back and state that all sperm and ova are sacred whether connected or not. Back to the Old Testament sin of spilling one’s seed on the ground. Can you imagine what a world this would be if all sperm and ova were to become full grown human beings? There are way too many of us already and we are killing the planet.

            Our ultra-religious brethren and sisters do not want children taught about sex, so a significant portion of them learn about it the old-fashioned way, by experimentation. And, birth control should be withheld in order to not prevent the birth of children, but it also aids in the spread of sexual diseases to men and women. Abortion, of course, mustn’t happen regardless of the needs of the mother or the potential child or the family. So, in some countries like China and India, children are killed after birth; usually girls. Or, the families can’t afford to care for them and they starve to death.

            Now, if those who insist on laws requiring no abortions would take on the care of the unaborted children until adulthood, that
            would be a possible solution. But, they won’t.

            Although, I haven’t read about abortions in the history of Greek, Roman, Jewish, Muslim and Christian days, it likely happened. But, I have read about the right of fathers to kill their children in all those cultures, and others.

    1. Not specifically “women’s rights”, but “human rights” for all people. That’s probably part of the reasoning behind the phrasing of the judgement, putting the human rights of the mother against the “human rights” of the foetus, thereby moving the case from the possible jurisdiction of the ECHR back down to the jurisdiction of the state’s courts.
      (There is also a principle of EU legislation that responsibility for most matters be moved down to the lowest level at which they’re appropriate (“subsidiarity” they call it), which would also apply in this case as the human rights of both participants in the situation are being considered.) There is a third tack that the Polish politicians might also try – introducing “father’s rights” into the question, but how that would play out isn’t at all clear (“fathers” not being a homogenous group, and cases being cases, full of specific details).
      Remember that for decades (until quite recently) Ireland also had strongly anti-abortion laws without any real hint of opposition from the EU level (despite multiple attempts), because the human right of freedom of movement was not (generally) prevented and Irish women needing an abortion took the Dublin-Holyhead ferry and brought an abortion in mainland Britain.
      Getting an abortion in Northern Ireland / Ulster remains, I understand (Someone Else’s Problem), extremely difficult because of screaming god-squaddies in control, and the same freedom of movement “sweeping under the carpet” is applying there. Good business for private health clinics near port on the Irish Sea border.
      How that is going to play out after the Irish Sea border is emplaced, I don’t know. I doubt they’ll have enough people to properly carry out customs inspections of goods travelling across the border, so they simply won’t look at people, but that won’t sit well with the anti-immigration bigots in the Tory (hawk, spit) Party, so I suspect there will be blood there too.
      When Scotland votes for independence, I suspect that border is going to become complex pretty rapidly too.

      1. This is about abortion not goods. We are talking about a woman and a human foetus, not bushels of corn. As long as people can move freely and the NI government remains stuck in the Dark Ages, the situation in NI will remain the same as it is now – unless you are proposing that every human female crossing from NI to England or Wales is examined to see if they are pregnant and then examined on the way back to make sure they are still pregnant.

        I have no idea why you think Scotland is relevant to this at all. AFAIK Scotland’s abortion rules are in line with those of England.

        1. unless you are proposing that every human female crossing from NI to England or Wales is examined to see if they are pregnant and then examined on the way back to make sure they are still pregnant.

          I wouldn’t, for one second, put that past the lunatic fringe – sorry, the “slightly further from the centre branch” – of the DUP. See also the recent Qatar incident.
          The relevance for Scotland is that Larne to Stranraer and Larne to Cairnryan are the shortest, quickest and cheapest routes between Ulster and land currently in the United Kingdom (“of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” ; it must infuriate the Orangemen to be reminded that they aren’t from Great Britain). Scotland will probably get a high proportion of the Ulster-sourced abortion traffic, once the border into Ireland is closed by Westminster, to try to avoid an Irish Sea border. And we’ve got our own religious lunatic fringes to deal with, including quite a lot of Orangemen and their bigotry.
          When “The Troubles” re-ignite, no small part of the funding will come from Glasgow and Ayrshire (and lesser but significant amounts from the rest of the Central Belt).

  2. Polish women could of course only travel Czechoslovakia by going 27 years back in time. That might actually be a good thing in this case.

    1. Thanks for pointing this out. People from the Czech Republic are a little sensitive about their country being referred to by this anachronism…

      1. Not sure the Slovaks are crazy about it either, given that they were the ones who originally pushed for the “Velvet Divorce.”

  3. Dunno whether, as the Hitch claimed, religion poisons everything, but we can sure chalk one up to that column with this decision, especially when combined with the right-wing authoritarianism now plaguing Poland.

    1. Unless her husband instructs her differently.

      Have the private eyes (“dicks”?) of the American Left uncovered his embarrassing little secrets yet? The likelihood that he doesn’t have pressure points is low, and since he doesn’t have the protection of office but does have control over the supreme court member (nominee? I’m not following foreign news very closely), then her god-ordained submission to him makes him a viable route to controlling the Supreme Court.
      Cynical? Me?

  4. However, unlike Poland, the US is a federation and I expect abortion will be made illegal only in the godforsaken red states, who already do their best to make them hard to get. Not too much comfort, I know.

      1. I think we need a better saying than that. You’d be better off if your state was forsaken by god. It’s being god infested that causes all the problems. Kinda like how people always say wild areas like forested mountains are “God’s country”. No, where there is a paucity of people there’s a distinctive lack of gods. The real “God’s country” is the blight that is suburbia, with its strip malls, parking lots, and mega churches.

    1. Although some states, like CT, have laws that protect a right to abortion and which have been interpreted to be consistent with their respective state constitutions, no state explicitly protects the right. We are all vulnerable, red and blue.

    2. No, with Barrett on the Court there are now 5 Justices ready to rule that a fetus is a person from the moment of conception. If so, then it is a denial of equal protection for a state to allow a woman to “kill” her fetus. A state can’t legally allow involuntary euthanasia of any person (other than by the state itself!), and if a fetus is a person …

      1. I don’t think that’s right, but the legal eagles here can correct me. IIANM, if Roe v Wade is overturned abortion won’t suddenly become illegal, but such a decision would mean that the right would no longer be protected, so states would be free to regulate it. It would take an act of congress to make it a federal crime.

        1. Oh wait. I see what you’re saying. You’re suggesting that once RvW is overturned, another decision regarding when life begins could make it illegal everywhere?

          If so, well then yes, I guess that’s a possibility.

          1. I think all that SCOTUS would need to do is uphold in its entirety a state case that bans abortions because the fetus is a person. I could see that happening. Two birds, one stone.

            1. How is “personhood” supposed to work anyway? One person living inside another person’s body, both with legal rights and protection? That’s the part they never ever seem to explain…

        2. In Roe v. Wade, the State of Texas argued that fetuses were “persons” for constitutional purposes, but this assertion was roundly rejected by the Court — not just by the seven justices in the Roe majority, but by the two dissenting justices, William Rehnquist and Byron White, as being without foundation in the text or history of the US constitution.

          There may well now be at least five justices willing to overrule Roe‘s holding that the constitution contains a non-textual “right to privacy” that guarantees a woman’s access to abortion, but I do not believe that there are five justices willing to revisit the issue whether fetuses are “persons” within the meaning of the constitution. (Such a finding would constitute the height of judicial activism.)

          Having “personhood” conferred upon fetuses is, nonetheless, the ultimate goal of the anti-abortion movement — but I think even they understand that this goal could be achieved only by constitutional amendment, not by judicial fiat.

          Were anti-abortion forces successful in having fetuses declared “persons” for constitutional purposes, abortion would be illegal in all 50 states (rather than left to the individual cases, as would be the case if SCOTUS were merely to reject Roe‘s right-to-privacy holding), and abortion would, perforce, be punishable as murder under the constitution’s Equal Protection clause.

          1. Ken, I know you’re smarter about all things legal than I am, but you seem awfully confident that the Justices can’t extract a suitable Original Intent or textualist Meaning from their crystal balls. One which implies fetal personhood. I wish I shared your confidence. Those crystal balls seem to work by mostly unpredictable magic. The extent to which the magic is predictable mostly relates to the ideology of the relevant Justice.

    3. What’s the constitutional situation if a red state makes abortion illegal and a woman travels to a civilised state to get the abortion and then returns to the red state where she lives. Could the red state construct a law that makes what the woman did illegal? could they have jurisdiction over “murders” “committed” out of state.

      (scare quotes intentional)

      1. That’s an interesting extra-territoriality question that Ken Kukec would need to answer. I expect not. Typically, it is the act of providing an abortion that would be illegal, not having had one. They go after the doctors, not the women. However, if a state could make getting an abortion equivalent to committing murder, then who knows? I don’t think a state could do that, though.

      2. This issue comes up with assisted suicide. Some states like mine (WA) permit doctors to assist the terminally ill in committing suicide. In others, assisting suicide is murder. I know of no case where a doctor who assists suicide legally in one state has been prosecuted for doing so by another state. So I’m guessing this would apply to abortion as well.

  5. https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielcassady/2020/10/22/us-signs-anti-abortion-declaration-with-32-countries/

    The Geneva Consensus Declaration calls on nations to “promote the rights of women and strengthen the family,” but stresses there is “no international right to abortion.”

    The declaration was cosponsored by the U.S., Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, Brazil and Uganda.

    Apart from the United States, not one of those countries ranks higher than 95th on Georgetown University’s Women, Peace and Security Index.

    Other signatories include Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and the Democratic Republic of Congo, all of which are classified as authoritarian regimes in The Economist’s 2019 Democracy Index.

  6. So a majority of Poles want to return to the past abortion laws yet a slim majority voted to keep the conservatives in power…that’s the problem. Like here in the US, people keep voting against their own interests. Chickens have to stop voting for Col. Sanders, otherwise you can’t be surprised when you end up extra crispy. Same for the UK. You had Boris as London mayor, knew Farage was a greedy bigot, still voted for Brexit AND then after that Boris becomes PM. Elect a clown, end up with a three-ring circus and get paid peanuts. I can’t understand this anti-enlightenment, anti-rights, anti-progress movement that has spread all over the world. Just what the hell?!

    1. Top of the local news is that a Swedish university has looked at the US as an example of the global autocratic tendency recently. In their analysis the Democrats are standing still (but is of course more center right than an average European liberal party). But the Republicans are swiftly moving towards the Hungarian Fidesz region – Hungary being the first non-democratic European nation in a long time. [I don’t know if it is good science or available in English, but I would guess the latter.]

      In other news, the Brexit debacle have a newspaper leading with “What if Boris Johnson is a lunatic for real?”.

      1. “the Democrats are standing still” – the Democrats are *mostly* standing still. In a diagram summary they are not moving, but the text is having them being a bit more autocratic, I think. YMMV.

  7. How did the the right-wing PiS gain so much influence? Aren’t there enough Poles with wisdom to nix that nonsense? Where are the centrists?

  8. I wonder where Poland is on the use of contraceptives. Are they making them illegal as well? I don’t know which is worse, the banning of abortions or contraceptives, but banning both is what the RCC wants, and that is beyond reprehensible.

    1. I can’t speak to Polish law, but if one believes that human life begins at the moment of fertilization (as opposed to at implantation or at quickening or at some other point of pregnancy) — as Amy Coney Barrett’s public statements suggest she does — then use of an IUD or morning-after pill or any other post-fertilization contraception is tantamount to abortion.

      The RCC opposes the use of even pre-fertilization artificial contraception, but on different grounds than it opposes abortion. To my knowledge the Church authorizes only two methods of “natural” contraception: calendar-based family planning and coitus interruptus — or, as they are known to sexually active Catholics, “Rhythm & Blues.” 🙂

  9. In the “Economist” magazine Sep. 19, 2020 issue, page 10, there’s an article entitled “No Scrubs”, in which it says an organization named “Aid Access” can prescribe abortion pills and mail them from overseas to women in America. I guess this is the solution when Roe v. Wade is overturned one day.

  10. If it happens more and more that abortion is made illegal, women will return to aborting themselves with chemicals and/or coat hangers. Those that can afford it, will go from a country where it is illegal to one where abortion is legal. Those that can’t afford this option, will take the risk of less safe methods.It happened before. It can happen again.

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