Since the beginning of 2018, two bills on abortion have been presented in Poland. The first one, called “Stop Abortion”, started from a popular initiative supported by various Catholic groups and by the Polish Episcopal Conference, one of the most conservative in Europe. It was proposed by members of the ultra-conservative majority party called “Law and Justice” (Pis), the right-wing party that also includes Mateusz Morawiecki, Prime Minister of Poland. The alternative bill, submitted by the “Save Women” committee, had the aim of liberalising abortions up to the 12th week and to offer better access to emergency contraception, medical care and sexual education. Recently, the Polish Parliament has voted to continue the legislative process of the restrictive proposal by sending it to a special parliamentary committee, and rejected the liberal bill.
Poland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, which was approved in 1993 and authorises abortion only in three cases:
- When pregnancy endangers the life or health of a pregnant woman;
- When prenatal examinations indicate the presence of a serious malformation of the foetus or the risk of an incurable disease that threatens their life (the motivation behind 95% of legal abortions currently practiced in Poland) or;
- If the foetus has been conceived as a result of abuse.
Women in Poland are not subject to a penalty for illegal termination of pregnancy, but the consent of a physician is required in almost all circumstances. In the case of abuse, the abortion procedure must be approved and certified by a prosecutor. In addition, as in many other European countries, parental consent is always required if the woman seeking an abortion is a minor.
The new bill moving through the legislature pushes these restrictions further in aiming to eliminate the right to an abortion due to any malformation or genetic diseases of the foetus. However, according to the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, the Polish parliament should not carry out the examination of the bill, and should consider amending the existing legislation.
EU institutions and several NGOs have affirmed that Poland already has one of the most prohibitive abortion laws in Europe and the latest proposed reform further contradicts international standards.
It is estimated that every year between 100,000 and 200,000 Polish women are forced to undertake secret abortions or go abroad to have the procedure (usually travelling to Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Germany or Ukraine), and this is much higher than the number of legal abortions practiced every year in Poland (around 1,000 – 2,000). Furthermore, the vast majority of miscarriages take place illegally in Poland, because obtaining legal consent to abort can be extremely difficult, due to many doctors refusing to perform it lawfully.
Among the numerous NGOs standing against the new bill, the “Federation for Women” showed the strongest opposition. The organisation has been at the forefront of the protection of the right to conscious parenting in Poland. The NGO’s main interests are access to contraception, sexual education, right to prenatal quality diagnosis and to the care of the foetus as well as the right to legal and safe abortions. They work for the improvement of the quality of women’s reproductive health, including access to family planning services, fertility treatments and gynaecological disease prevention. By adjusting state policies to international reproductive health standards – for example, respecting the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee – the organisation supports women who assert their rights within the Polish or international justice system.
The liberal bill proposal made by the “Save the Women” committee was considered a small step towards greater respect for reproductive rights, but since its rejection by Parliament and the corresponding progression made by the regressive bill; this poses a dangerous threat to Polish women’s freedom of choice.
Federation for Women and Family Planning (2018), The Draft Law Penalizing Abortion In Case Of Foetal Impairment Submitted To The Parliament. Available at: http://en.federa.org.pl/the-draft-law-penalizing-abortion-in-case-of-foetal-impairment-submitted-to-the-parliament/ Last accessed 15 April 2018.
Save Women Committee (2017), The Save the Women Project, Available at: http://ratujmykobiety.org.pl/projekt-ratujmy-kobiety-2017-trafil-do-sejmu/ Last accessed 15 April 2018.
Federation for Women and Family Planning (2018), Conformism, Contempt & Conceit – Voting On Abortion-Related Bills in the Polish Parliament, Available at: http://en.federa.org.pl/voting-on-abortion-related-bills/ Last accessed 15 April 2018.
Polish Parliament (1993), The Family Planning, Human Embryo Protection and Conditions of Permissibility of Abortion Act, Available at: https://www.reproductiverights.org/sites/crr.civicactions.net/files/documents/Polish%20abortion%20act–English%20translation.pdf Last accessed 15 April 2018.
United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division (2014), Abortion Policies and Reproductive Health around the World, Available at: http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications/pdf/policy/AbortionPoliciesReproductiveHealth.pdf Last accessed 15 April 2018.
UN Human Right Office of the High Commissioner (2018), Poland must not further restrict sexual and reproductive health and rights, (Press Release) Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22882&LangID=E Last accessed 15 April 2018.
Federation for Women and Family Planning (2018), International Support against the Pending Abortion Ban in Poland, Available at: http://en.federa.org.pl/international-support-against-the-pending-abortion-ban-in-poland/ Last accessed 15 April 2018.
Please see: ‘Over 200 International NGO’s Appeal for the Rejection of “Stop Abortion” Bill’ Available at: http://en.federa.org.pl/over-200-international-ngos-appeal-for-the-rejection-of-stop-abortion-bill/ Last accessed 15 April 2018.