Poland, Parliament, and Practicality

The European Parliament’s Resolution on Poland’s Abortion Ruling and Practical Situation

, by Julia Golachowska

Poland, Parliament, and Practicality
MEP Iratxe Garcia Perez speaks during a debate on abortion rights in Poland at the European Parliament in Brussels on November 25, 2020
Pool photo by Olivier Hoslet/AFP via Getty Images found at https://www.politico.eu/article/meps-adopt-resolution-condemning-polands-abortion-bill/

On 26 November, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the de facto ban on the right to abortion in Poland. The document condemns the newly announced ruling of Julia Przyłębska’s Constitutional Tribunal that proclaimed the unconstitutionality of abortion in the case of fetal abnormality and ipso facto practically banned any pregnancy termination. Both sides cite the Polish Constitution.

Poland already had one of the most restrictive laws in the European Union - since 1993, abortion was allowed only in three cases: when the pregnancy was a result of a criminal act, when the life of the pregnant woman was in danger or when the fetus was significantly and irreparably damaged (the latter reason is being referred by the anti-choice movement as ‘eugenical’). The new ruling bans the most common premise for a legal abortion – according to the data published by the Ministry of Health (2019), abortions due to the fetal abnormality constituted 96 % of all the legally conducted procedures. This recent attempt to limit reproductive rights has been massively opposed, and despite the pandemic regulations, the protests gathered hundreds of people all over the country – the highest number in Polish history.

One month after the announcement of Julia Przyłębska’s Constitutional Tribunal, MEPs strongly condemned the new ruling, saying that it is dangerously close to the total ban of abortion and puts women’s lives at risk by leading to unsafe clandestine abortions. The resolution invokes (among others) multiple sources: anti-discriminatory regulations, human rights declarations and the Constitution of the Republic of Poland. While the Tribunal’s ruling instrumentalizes the constitutional protection of life, the EP’s resolution focuses on the parts guaranteeing freedom from inhumane or degrading treatment, the right to privacy and the prohibition of discrimination. The European Parliament also emphasizes the connection between the current human rights crisis resulting in massive protests and the long-lasting crisis of the rule of law in Poland.

The resolution also points out that the issuing of such a significant ruling during the COVID-19 pandemic stifles any democratic debate. Limiting basic human rights under the lockdown brings obvious risk of fomenting the protests and thus putting citizens’ lives in danger. This hazardous and disrespectful way of proceeding shows disregard towards the democratic procedures. Also, the reported police brutality and arrests increase the risk of contagion among the protesters.

Moreover, introducing the new ruling on women’s rights during the COVID-19 pandemic is exceptionally dramatic when access to the medical services has already been limited and the lockdown additionally obstructs searching for help. It worsens especially the situation of domestic violence victims forced to undergo their isolation together with their oppressors.

Despite the fact that access to abortion healthcare is (arguably) a fundamental human right, and as such should be protected by the EU institutions and Member States, the EP’s resolution is non-binding for the Polish government. Due to the opt-outfrom the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the EU has no jurisdiction over the abortion regulations in Poland. The MEP’s condemnation can put some pressure on the ruling party but will not force any direct changes.

Several European countries (Czech Republic, Iceland, Sweden) have already declared their willingness to help Polish citizens in need of abortion. Also, Aborcyjny Dream Team (Abortion Dream Team), an informal Polish initiative keeps providing information, support and sometimes provide funding for those in need. No matter how meaningful the help, however, it is not a long-term solution. Being forced to travel abroad - possibly to the place where one does not understand the language and the logic of the healthcare system - is far more stressful, expensive and complicated logistically. And significantly enough, it is not provided by the Polish state.

Going abroad in order to have a safe abortion is not a new phenomenon for the uterus-bearers having Polish citizenship. As legal pregnancy termination is limited to only three premises, and even these three are being questioned by some doctors, many pregnant individuals seek help abroad.

On that level, the free movement of people within the EU facilitates abortion abroad as a short-term solution while the situation requires systematic solving. However, one should keep in mind that not everyone can manage travel abroad, financially or logistically. A mother of five, a precariat student or a woman with a disability will not necessarily be able to have a few days off, especially if one wants to keep the abortion to themselves. This situation strengthens pre-existing inequalities in access to the healthcare and means of transportation in the Polish society. And even if we all would have possibility to go abroad, it still means that we cannot feel safe at home.

To make abortion safe and accessible for everyone we must bring it to Poland, change the legislation and fight anti-choice misinformation. The dramatic situation in Poland requires further cooperation, developing systematic changes and tools to prevent similar cases in other countries. Safe abortion means a legal abortion in your own country.

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