Poland has taken a further step on Thursday to limit women's reproductive rights. The Constitutional Court, controlled by judges related to the party in the Government, the ultra-conservative Law and Justice (PiS), has issued a ruling in which it considers the interruption of pregnancy unconstitutional in the event that the fetus suffers a malformation or irreversible disease. To date, this was one of the three cases allowed in the already restrictive Polish legislation and represented around 97% of the 1,110 abortions performed legally in the country last year, according to official data.
Dozens of women gathered in front of the court on Thursday during the magistrates' deliberation. The decision comes from the request of a group of 119 conservative deputies, mostly belonging to the PiS, who in December 2019 presented the motion for the second time before the Constitutional Court (the previous one was suspended at the end of the previous legislature). During the reading of the ruling, the president of the Court, Julia Przylebska, agreed with them when she considered that a provision that “legalizes eugenic practices in the field of the right to life of a child who is going to be born and makes the right to his life depends on his health, which constitutes direct discrimination, (…) it is inconsistent (…) with the constitution, ”reports Reuters.
The Polish Family Planning Act, of 1993, was already among the most restrictive in Europe – only behind Malta, San Marino and Andorra, where abortion is not legal in any case – and allowed this practice, in addition to the case of fetal malformation, if the pregnancy was the product of rape or incest and when the mother's life was in danger.
From the International Federation of Family Planning in Europe (IPPF) they highlight the seriousness of the failure. “It is not just about rights,” says Irene Donadio, IPPF spokesperson, “with this decision we are putting women's health and lives at risk,” she says. The IPPF also denounces that access to abortion in the other two cases is much more complicated in practice. “It is one more step towards obscurity, in line with the request of some deputies a few months ago to withdraw Poland from the Istanbul Convention (the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence) ”, He insists. In the same vein, Leah Hoctor, regional director for Europe of the Center for Reproductive Rights, declares, who considers that the statement “violates Poland's obligations under international human rights treaties to refrain from measures that reverse the rights of women. women in sexual and reproductive health care "." Eliminating the basis for almost all legal abortions in Poland is practically equivalent to prohibiting them and violates human rights, "the Council's human rights commissioner said on Twitter. from Europe, Dunja Mijatovic. "The decision means clandestine abortions or abroad for those who can afford it, and an even greater test for others. Sad day for women's rights," he added.
The Court's ruling, the civil organizations denounce, reveals once again the lack of independence of the judges. For Malgorzata Szuleka, a lawyer for the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, from the legal point of view the main problem lies in the composition of the Constitutional Court. "Among the magistrates who were judging today, there are three who were appointed by the Parliament – controlled by PiS – without a valid legal basis." In the last four years, Szuleka points out, all politicized cases were resolved in line with the opinion of the ruling party. In addition, the media have repeatedly pointed out the friendship between the president of the Court and the leader of the PiS and current deputy prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski. The problem is not new either. The successive judicial reforms carried out by Law and Justice since they came to power in 2015 have pitted the Executive against the European Union, which considers that they endanger the rule of law in the country by undermining the separation of powers. Last April, the European Court of Justice suspended the action of the body created in 2017 to apply a disciplinary regime to judges, since it considered that it did not guarantee the independence or impartiality of the system.
For Marta Lempart, an activist and one of the members of the National Women's Strike movement in Poland, the position of the Court has come as no surprise. He argues that in a “politicized” body, the ruling serves to “divert attention” at a time when the country is going through the worst moment of the covid-19 pandemic, with a record of daily infections (12,107) and 168 deaths in the last 24 hours. And he warns that the movement is preparing to fight and will continue to support women who seek to terminate their pregnancy.
“When all of Europe goes in one direction, in Poland, in this undemocratic way, it goes towards the other”, says Donadio, who advocates a community solution to stop the “Polish drift”. “Today it is Poland, but tomorrow it could be any other member of the EU. We need a much stronger mechanism to protect citizens ”, he points out in reference to linking European funds and the budget with compliance with the rule of law.
According to an IBRiS poll collected by Europa Press, around 50% of Poles support the current abortion legislation. In a country where more than 92% of its 38 million inhabitants are Catholic, almost 30% would be in favor of making the law more flexible, while another 15% would like access to the termination of pregnancy to be completely prohibited.
Various attempts to further restrict the law
Attempts to restrict access to abortion are not new since the arrival of the ultraconservatives to the government. QThe most recent was last April, during the first wave of the pandemic and when public gatherings were prohibited. Congress then debated a bill (a citizen initiative of the pro-life organization Stop Aborto that had been paralyzed in the lower house since 2018 after strong social mobilization) to eliminate the assumption of fetal malformation from the legislation. Without breaching the constraints, the women organized through the Internet, honked their cars in synchronization in protest, and demonstrated while queuing to enter stores. At that time, the PiS chose to park the procedure by voting in favor of sending the proposal to the parliamentary committee.