Over the last week, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Poland to protest changes to abortion laws in the country. They’ve blocked roads, disrupted church services, and organised strikes to challenge a ruling passed on Oct. 22 that deemed abortions in cases of foetal defects to be unconstitutional. Prior to this, Poland's abortion laws were already very restricted compared to the rest of Europe and the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic has written on Twitter, “Removing the basis for almost all legal abortions in Poland amounts to a ban and violates human rights.”
Find out more about the ruling, the protests, and what you can do to help below.
The New Abortion Ruling In Poland
Prior to Oct. 22 abortion was legal in Poland if the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest, if the life of the mother was endangered, or if the baby would be born with serious foetal defects. This could include serious developmental or physical disabilities. The New York Times reports that the latter account for 1,074 of the 1,100 legal abortions performed in 2019.
However, on Oct. 22 the highest court in Poland ruled that abortions conducted due to foetal defects would now be unconstitutional. Chief Justice Julia Przyłębska said that having an abortion for this reason amounted to “eugenic practices” and that the constitution in Poland protects the right to human life.
The court ruling has now potentially paved the way for lawmakers in Poland's Law and Justice Party (PiS) – the largest political party in Polish government – to approve draft legislation that would ban abortions in the case of foetuses with congenital birth defects.
Women’s Rights Groups have estimated that, each year, 200,000 abortions are performed illegally in Poland or by Polish citizens travelling abroad and the new ruling will likely see this figure increase.
The Protests In Poland
Since the ruling, tens of thousands of activists have taken to the streets of Poland to protest the decision. Elsewhere, people have turned up outside the Polish embassies in London and in Kyiv to show solidarity too.
Polish protestors have marched with signs that read "this is war” and "I wish I could abort my government," with some dressing as characters from The Handmaid's Tale. They have blocked streets in the capital city Warsaw and across Poland and have planned for more mass demonstrations planned throughout this week. Some women have also gone on strike, it's been reported, though no official figures are available on that.
Similar action was taken in 2016 when Poland’s government were debating a total ban on access to abortions.
The governing Law and Justice Party has been criticised for their links with the Catholic church which are thought to undermine the independence of the court. In Poland, doctors can already deny patients access to contraception or legal abortions on the basis of their religious beliefs.
How To Help
Watching protests from afar can make you feel seriously helpless. However, there are things you can do to support activists on the ground in Poland.
Though it may seem like nothing, raising awareness on social media is important. Making your followers aware of what's happening helps continue the conversation and put pressure on lawmakers in Poland. It encourages the media to pay more attention and also raises the profile of organisers and groups on the ground who support these issues all year round.
Donating to organisations working on the ground to protest this issue is one of the best things you can do. If you're able, consider donating to: