Protests have erupted after a ruling by Poland’s highest court to implement stricter rules governing abortion.
Poland has exploded with protests against the new government’s ruling on abortions. The high court’s ruling has meant that abortion will only be permitted in cases of incest, rape and when the mother’s life is at risk. Poland’s Chief of Justice, Julia Przylebska, described the existing legislation, permitting the aborting of severely malformed foetuses, as “incompatible” with the country’s constitution. This constitution calls for the protection of human life from the development stage, thereby classifying a foetus as human life.
The change was prompted by a legal challenge by MPs belonging to the governing Law and Justice Party, a nationalist party, under pressure from Bishops and lay Catholic groups in the country. However, according to opinion polls, the majority of Poles oppose this decision, leading to an assumption that the populist government has passed undemocratic legislation, thereby indicating a slip towards authoritarianism. Indeed, in 2016, approximately 100,000 people took to streets to block such an attempt as has been made this year.
The Ruling’s Impact
The decision, undemocratic or not, will have real and potentially detrimental consequences. Most abortions that happen in Poland are due to severe foetus malformations and the cases for which exceptions have been made account for only 2% of abortions in Poland. Moreover, these exceptions do not take into consideration the mental and physical difficulties that may arise from having to care for a severely sick child. Poland spends less on healthcare than any other EU member state, which puts to question the quality of care that would be available for a child born because of these restrictive laws.
A questionable healthcare system inevitably arouses anxiety for the prospect of raising an ill child. Women consider abortions if a foetus is found to be severely malformed. This may lead to Polish women considering aborting their unborn children illegally. In Poland, unsafe abortion is a possible alternative. But the risks of unsafe abortions are dire. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), every year, around 4.7% to 13.2% of maternal deaths may be attributed to illegal, or unsafe abortion.
Ethics versus Religion
From an ethical perspective, the ruling is a direct curtailment of a woman’s right to her body. Not only are the woman’s rights infringed but the quality of human life is compromised. A defence on grounds of religious authority may not be enough to justify this move. Poland is a predominately Catholic and socially conservative country. However, religion is a personal matter and citizens need not necessarily subscribe to the faith of the state. Approximately 87% of Poland’s population is Roman Catholic, leaving 13% of the population forced to accept laws based on religion.
What is more troubling is that access to abortion is not equal in each region or healthcare clinic. It is thought the ruling would only make it harder for women to get abortions. This is due to healthcare professionals being averse to it, and the legal proceedings being too “exhaustive”.
Infringement of Human Rights?
Human rights advocates have expressed anger at the ruling. Amnesty International stated with the Centre for Reproductive Rights and Human Rights Watch, saying: these restrictive abortion laws have come “in the context of repeated government attacks on women’s rights and efforts to roll back reproductive rights” and “legal and policy changes” undermining the “independence of the judiciary and rule of law in Poland”.
Poland is not the only country to call for further restrictions on abortion. The USA, in recent times, has also seen profound investment into a matter that should not be generalised by the state.
The ruling has infuriated the nation. But will this notoriously stern government revoke this unpopular legislation?