Poland’s high court effectively bans abortion


Protesters against Court decision fill streets

A ruling by Poland’s highest court has effectively banned most abortions in a country where there are only about 2,000 a year.

In an 11 to 2 decision, the Constitutional Tribunal declared that abortion due to foetal defects is unconstitutional. It will only be permitted in cases of rape, incest or threats to the mother’s health and life. These constitute about 2% of legal terminations in recent years -- 1,074 of 1,100 abortions performed in 2019 – and are mostly Down syndrome babies.

The decision was immediately criticised by the commissioner for human rights for the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatović, who decried it as “a sad day for women’s rights”.

The former liberal Polish premier and PiS critic Donald Tusk called the timing of the abortion issue “political wickedness”. “Throwing the topic of abortion and a ruling by a pseudo-court into the middle of a raging pandemic is more than cynical,” said Tusk, who is now the head of the European People’s party.

The governing Law and Justice party (PiS) will probably pass legislation banning abortions in the case of foetuses with congenital birth defects.

An attempt by the PiS government to tighten the abortion law in 2016 after nationwide protests. So PiS legislators asked the Constitutional Court to rule on the legality of abortion for birth defects.

The country of 38 million people has fewer than 2,000 legal abortions a year, but women’s groups estimate that tens of thousands are performed illegally or abroad.

Few media reports looked into the Court’s reasoning. In language familiar to protesters in the US and UK over the past year or so, it condemned eugenics. It contended that terminating pregnancy due to defects of the foetus amounted to eugenics – a sensitive issue in a country which suffered so much under Nazi occupation.

The children’s rights commissioner, Mikołaj Pawlak, supported the decision. He said that “eugenic” abortion amounts to “denying the right to life” as it “allows for the killing of an unborn child solely on the basis of suspicion of a serious disease”.

Pawlak noted that the current law allows for termination in the case of abnormalities such as Downs syndrome, which is not a life-threatening condition. He also observed that the number of abortions has been steadily rising, from 499 in 2008 to 1,110 in 2019.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge




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