MEPs express outrage over Poland’s near-total ban on abortion

The draconian move by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal has sparked protests in cities across the country.
MEPs stage "Handmaid's Tale" protest outside European Parliament against Polish abortion ban

By Lorna Hutchinson

Lorna Hutchinson is Deputy Editor of The Parliament Magazine

24 Oct 2020

On Thursday, Poland’s highest court ruled that legislation allowing women to seek an abortion on the grounds of severe foetal impairment was “incompatible” with the constitution.

The only grounds for accessing an abortion in Poland will now be in the case of rape, incest, or if there is a threat to the mother’s life.

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, said that removing the basis for almost all legal abortions in Poland was tantamount to a ban and was a violation of human rights.

“The ruling of the Constitutional Court means underground/abroad abortions for those who can afford it and an even greater ordeal for all others. A sad day for women’s rights.”

Evelyn Regner, chair of Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee, said that by making abortion illegal, governments and courts risk putting women in life-threatening situations.

“The Polish Constitutional Court just stated that access to abortion in cases of severe foetus defects or fetal abnormalities violates the Polish constitution. This is outrageous! I absolutely condemn this decision.”

The ruling on Thursday is the latest in a series of moves eroding women’s rights as well as LGBTI rights in Poland. In July, Poland decided to withdraw from the groundbreaking Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, citing “unacceptable ideological provisions.”

“The Polish Constitutional Court just stated that access to abortion in cases of severe foetus defects or fetal abnormalities violates the Polish constitution. This is outrageous! I absolutely condemn this decision” Evelyn Regner, chair of FEMM Committee

Earlier in the week, a cross-party group of MEPs staged a protest outside the European Parliament dressed as handmaids in a reference to Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel in which women are brutally subjugated and reduced to captive wombs.

Polish S&D MEP Robert Biedroń, who was in Poland to take part in a peaceful protest against Thursday’s court ruling, found himself a target of what he called the “unjustified aggression” of the Polish police.

He explained on Twitter, “Polish women and Poles all over Poland took to the streets today to protest for their fundamental rights. The police use pepper spray, use unjustified aggression and torment people, and prevent the performance of a deputy's mandate. I have only one question - are you not ashamed?”

German Greens deputy Terry Reintke responded, “Solidarity with our colleague Robert Biedroń, who was heavily pushed back by police officers while trying to exercise his parliamentary mandate.”

“Thousands of people are in the streets right now to protest for their fundamental rights. We are at your side.”

French Renew Europe MEP Chrysoula Zacharopoulou spoke of the “powerful and moving images” from Poland, where tens of thousands have been protesting across the country against the court ruling.

“A huge demonstration in defense of women's rights. Access to abortion is a right. Europe must act!”

“This decision will needlessly increase the suffering of women already facing very difficult situations. Such inhumane and degrading treatment has been described by the European Court of Human Rights as tantamount to torturing women” International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network

S&D leader Iratxe García Pérez said in a statement, “I am speechless. In today’s Poland, an EU member state in the twenty-first 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, Kaczynski’s Law and Justice party.

García Pérez said that as a consequence of the ruling, even more Polish women may be pushed to undergo illegal, unsafe and life-threatening abortions.

Polish Greens deputy Sylwia Spurek said, “Controlled by PiS, the Constitutional Tribunal decided to condemn women in Poland to cruelty and suffering. In the European Parliament we will do everything to ensure that the Polish authorities bear the consequences of their actions. Abortion is a human right and access to it cannot be restricted by any EU country.”

Croatian S&D member Predrag Fred Matic called the Polish ruling “devastating,” adding that it would have repercussions not only in terms of women's rights and gender equality but also for the EU as a whole.

“These are the trends and decisions we must oppose. And we will. Firmly and loudly. We stand with women in Poland,” he added.

Fellow S&D member, Polish MEP Łukasz Kohut echoed this sentiment, saying, “we will not give up in the fight for women’s rights and for a normal European state. Never!”

“In the European Parliament we will do everything to ensure that the Polish authorities bear the consequences of their actions. Abortion is a human right and access to it cannot be restricted by any EU country” Sylwia Spurek, Greens/EFA

Swedish GUE/NGL MEP Malin Bjork, who also took part in the handmaid protest at Parliament on Wednesday, called the move “an enormous attack on women’s rights,” adding, “we will continue to stand with Polish women in solidarity.”

Luxembourg greens deputy Tilly Metz said she was very worried about the rule of law in Poland, adding, “we have to stand up and act in the EU to protect human rights defenders and to guarantee the right to protest for women’s rights and legal abortion.”

The International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network (IPPF EN), which champions sexual and reproductive health and rights for all, said that the “cruel, regressive move” had been made possible by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party’s “deliberate erosion of the rule of law and democratic values” in Poland.

IPPF EN said that the decision automatically removes the only ground on which Polish women have, until now, still been able to access abortion care in practice, when they needed it for therapeutic reasons.

“The result will be agonising for women and their families, forcing some to continue through pregnancies against their will, including in cases of fatal or severe foetal impairment, while others will have no choice but to travel abroad to seek care if they have the financial means to do so, or to seek underground abortions.”

It added, “This decision will needlessly increase the suffering of women already facing very difficult situations. Such inhumane and degrading treatment has been described by the European Court of Human Rights as tantamount to torturing women.”

EPF, the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, said that the court’s ruling “only strengthens the resolve of EPF's parliamentarians to fight for our fundamental freedoms and an effective mechanism to protect the rule of law.”

Read the most recent articles written by Lorna Hutchinson - International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women: Time for men to take a stand

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