MEPs call on EU to take action against Polish abortion ban as protests spread across the country

Abortion ruling condemned as an attack on women's rights and sexual self-determination.
Photo credit: PA images

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

28 Oct 2020

Leading rights campaigner and MEP Sylwia Spurek has joined others in condemning a Polish court ruling which effectively bans abortion in the country.

Spurek, the Greens/EFA Vice Chair of the Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee in the European Parliament, said the decision will strip Polish women of their rights, endanger their health and will "mostly affect the lives of low-income women."

The Polish Constitutional Tribunal ruling is seen as a crackdown on abortion rights in Poland, which already has one of the strictest abortion laws in Europe and the worst access to contraceptives on the continent.

Polish legislation allows abortion only in three circumstances: if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest; if the pregnancy poses a health risk to the woman/if her life is endangered by the pregnancy; or in case of foetal abnormalities.

This third cause is the reason for most abortions in Poland with 1074 out of 1100 abortions performed last year carried out due to serious congenital foetal defects.

Spurek said the tribunal's decision that carrying out abortion in this third circumstance is “unlawful” will mean that 97.6 percent of abortions will now be illegal to perform in Poland.

The Polish MEP told this site, “The Tribunal's ruling is clearly political and far from legitimate. Banning abortion has been on the political agenda of the PiS party for many years. The PiS government has unlawfully stuffed the courts, including the Constitutional Tribunal precisely so they can carry out damaging policies with impunity.

“The European Commission and Council must act on the rule of law in Poland to protect the rights of women and all citizens from the whims of the government. Women's rights are human rights and the right to safe and legal abortion is undoubtedly a matter of human rights" Sylwia Spurek MEP

"The rule of law in Poland is crumbling under the government's attacks on the independence of the judiciary. Rulings, such as this, are unlawful and cannot be considered legitimate so long as the judiciary is controlled by the PiS party.”

“The European Commission and Council must act on the rule of law in Poland to protect the rights of women and all citizens from the whims of the government. Women's rights are human rights and the right to safe and legal abortion is undoubtedly a matter of human rights".

Protests organised by the “Women's Strike” took place on Monday, when protesters drove in cars around Warsaw. There have been other recent protests surrounding the decision regarding abortion law and on other rulings which critics say “further endanger” the rule of law in Poland.

Last week, Spurek and several other MEPs, including her Greens/EFA colleague Terry Reintke took part in a “Handmaid’s Tale Protest” in support of Polish women.

On Wednesday, Reintke, in a tweet, said, “The message is clear: OUR BODIES, OUR RIGHTS. In Poland. In Europe. Everywhere. Keep going. We are right behind you.”

She also told this website, "The decision is a head-on attack on women's rights and sexual self-determination. The ruling PiS party is jeopardising women's health and continues to push through its political agenda by replacing judges.”

“The German Council Presidency and the European Commission cannot watch the rule of law in Poland being undermined by the government's attacks on the independence of the judiciary. Women's rights are human rights; the right to safe and legal abortion must not be compromised."

Poland has, with Hungary, seen itself at regular loggerheads with the EU over perceived threats to media freedom, corruption and the rule of law and the new court ruling has sparked fresh criticism of the government in Poland.

“The German Council Presidency and the European Commission cannot watch the rule of law in Poland being undermined by the government's attacks on the independence of the judiciary. Women's rights are human rights; the right to safe and legal abortion must not be compromised" Terry Reintke MEP

Further comment came from S&D group leader in the European Parliament, Iratxe García Pérez, who said she was “speechless”, adding, “In today’s Poland, an EU member state in the 21st century, the lives and health of Polish women are subordinated to a purely political calculation and ideological motivation.”

“I am appalled by both the barbaric character of the new restrictions, and the way they were introduced by the Tribunal that does not deserve its name, as it is totally controlled by PiS, Jarosław Kaczynski’s Law and Justice party."

Poland has already one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the EU, she said, adding, "This judgment means there will almost be a complete ban on abortion in Poland.”

“It is an appalling attack on women: a breach of women’s fundamental rights, as even in extreme cases of severe birth defects or foetal abnormalities Polish women will be deprived of the right to decide if they wish to terminate their pregnancy. As a consequence, even more women may be pushed to undergo illegal, unsafe and life-threatening abortions."

The Spanish MEP added, “It is also shocking how the decision was taken: the PiS-controlled Court lost its independence and legitimacy following the judiciary reforms, condemned even by the European Commission.”

“Today, Polish women are being direct victims of the absence of the rule of law. This only strengthens the resolve of my group not to give up the fight for an effective mechanism to protect the rule of law in the EU.

“It is no coincidence that the decision to further restrict access to abortion was taken at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is obvious that COVID-19-related restrictions did not allow Polish women to claim their rights in the same way as they did in the past, when women’s massive protests effectively forced the Polish authorities to back down.”

“It is an appalling attack on women: a breach of women’s fundamental rights, as even in extreme cases of severe birth defects or foetal abnormalities Polish women will be deprived of the right to decide if they wish to terminate their pregnancy. As a consequence, even more women may be pushed to undergo illegal, unsafe and life-threatening abortions" Iratxe García Pérez MEP

“I promise to Polish women that the Socialists and Democrats will continue to fight for their fundamental rights.”

Further comment comes from Liberal Polish MP Monika Rosa who told this site, “Poland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe and this politicised ruling adds more restrictions. This illegal and politicised order is an assault on women’s basic rights and a direct threat to their health and lives.”

Meanwhile, The European Commission has come under fire after it announced the release of €1bn in fresh funding to Poland, to cope with the economic impact of COVID-19

The criticism comes after the Commission, on Tuesday, said it was providing the money to Poland under the EU’s so-called “SURE” scheme.

This brings to €11.2bn the total sum Poland will receive under SURE, a flagship EU initiative aimed at saving jobs during the current health pandemic. Two other member states, Italy and Portugal, this week also received similar financial support.

But Denis MacShane, a former Europe Minister in the UK, signalled out the funding to Poland as “perverse.”

MacShane told this website, “It (the funding) certainly seems perverse when Poland is allowing one of its courts to treat women with a foul, unimaginable cruelty of forcing them to give birth to seriously deformed babies who won't survive.”

MacShane, who served under Tony Blair, questioned why the EU “is shipping out money from taxpayers who are worried at this barbaric practice".

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