“Sad Day for Women’s Rights”: Poland Court Rules a Near-Total Ban on Abortion

The highest court in Poland, the constitutional tribunal, ruled on October 22 that obtaining abortions for fetal abnormalities violates the Polish Constitution—tightening abortion restrictions in one of the strictest countries on abortion in Europe.

The tribunal’s president, Julia Przylebska, called abortions for severe fetal impairment “eugenic practices with regard to an unborn child, thus denying it the respect and protection of human dignity.” The Polish Constitution guarantees a right to life, said Przylebska, and therefore, abortion based on the fetus’s health equates to “a directly forbidden form of discrimination.”

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This ruling comes in the context of a country that already has some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe, and a populist government that has been pursuing harmful policies—including discrimination against gay people, attacking the media and accusing Germany of meddling in the election—for months.

Moreover, 98 percent of abortions in Poland are conducted due to fetal defects. Now, abortions are only legal for cases of rape, incest or if the pregnant person’s life is in danger—meaning many pregnant people will have to carry a child that they know will not or may not survive childbirth.

Women’s and human rights activists everywhere are speaking out against the ruling, and protests have been occurring for days across Poland.

The Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Dunja Mijatovic, called Thursday a “sad day for women’s rights” and tweeted, “Removing the basis for almost all legal abortions in Poland amounts to a ban and violates human rights. Today’s ruling of the Constitutional Court means underground/abroad abortions for those who can afford and even greater ordeal for all others.”

“There is an effective ban on abortion in Poland now,” said Agnieszka Kubal, a sociology and human rights scholar at University College London. “This has to be read in the context of the wider right-wing discourse on abortion in Poland, that women cannot be trusted with the right to choose.”

This lack of trust ultimately causes thousands of Polish women to travel abroad or seek abortions illegally, putting them in increased danger and risk.

Protests have been taking place for the past six days throughout the country and in others. In Warsaw, protesters were met with pepper spray and police violence. In Łódź, a “funeral for women’s rights” was planned for Friday evening, while protesters planned to protest in Warsaw again.

A Facebook protest event organized in the city of Gdańsk this weekend reads: “In a few days, hell for women will begin in this country.”

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Katarina Watson is a rising senior at Georgetown University, studying Women’s and Gender Studies and Biology, with plans to become an ob/gyn. She is on the education team at FMF, and is conducting a long-term research project on racial disparities in maternal health. She is passionate about reproductive justice, Title IX and good coffee.