Poland abortion ban: Stripping women of their fundamental human rights

The imposition of a near-total ban on abortion by the Polish Constitutional Court must elicit a strong reaction by the European Commission as Poland drifts ever further away from upholding EU values, writes Sylwia Spurek.

By Sylwia Spurek

Sylwia Spurek (PL, Greens/EFA) is a member of Parliament's Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee

28 Oct 2020

Last week’s ruling by Poland’s so-called Constitutional Court is indicative of the whole process of dismantling the rule of law that has been underway in Poland since 2015.

Following the measures aimed at demolishing the judiciary, the civil service, public media, and depriving the LGBT+ community of its dignity, comes the limitation of women’s fundamental human rights.

I stand in solidarity with Polish women on this dark day. I will persist in saying it out loud: “Abortion is ok”. Because nobody has the right to judge women or blame or stigmatise their decisions.

Women have effectively been deprived of the right to abortion for 27 years in Poland. Enacted in 1993, the Act on Family Planning, Human Embryo Protection and Conditions of Permissibility of Termination of Pregnancy has been an inapplicable law, as it has been disrespected by the authorities and offices obligated to implement it.

Even in the three cases in which the Act permits abortion, access to pregnancy termination has been impeded, and often made impossible. Moreover, Poland is the country with the poorest access to modern contraception in Europe, and there is no reliable and science-based sexual education provided in schools.

“I stand in solidarity with Polish women on this dark day. I will persist in saying it out loud: ‘Abortion is ok’. Because nobody has the right to judge women or blame or stigmatise their decisions”

Last year, 1,100 pregnancies were legally terminated in Poland, of which 1,074 procedures were performed due to embryo-pathology causes; i.e. in the case of a severe and irreversible foetal defect or an incurable illness that threatens the foetus’s life.

The Constitutional Court’s decision prohibits any further performance of such procedures, which is equivalent to a near-complete ban on abortion in Poland.

Abortion is a human rights issue. In 2018, two United Nations committees - the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) - issued a joint statement where they emphasised that access to safe and legal abortion, as well as related services and information, are essential aspects of women’s reproductive health and a prerequisite for safeguarding their human rights to life.

Analysing the situation in Poland, the UN Committee Against Torture compared the cases where a denial of abortion causes the ensuing physical and mental suffering for a woman as tantamount to torture.

The decision of the Constitutional Court demonstrates that Polish women cannot rely on protection by the institutions responsible for defence of the Constitution and human rights.

“The decision of the Constitutional Court demonstrates that Polish women cannot rely on protection by the institutions responsible for defence of the Constitution and human rights”

This decision is also an immense challenge for the European Union, the European Commission and Ursula von der Leyen.

The Constitutional Court’s ruling is yet another step towards Polexit because, with each day that passes, Poland is moving further and further away from EU values.

The European Commission must prove that the European Union protects its citizens, rather than stands with the governments, and show that we are a Community of values, rather than interests.

Polish citizens, whose rights are being violated, cannot wait any longer until the European Commission is done with the monitoring, debating and reprimanding.

The swift tying of EU funds to the rule of law is key and we must not wait for it any longer.

Read the most recent articles written by Sylwia Spurek - Did the European Commission hold back in its Farm to Fork strategy?

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