For over more than a couple months now Poland has seen an unprecedented nationwide protest against the nation’s new abortion law. The demonstrations have evolved into Poland’s largest protest movement since the fall of communism in the country 30 years ago.
The October 22 ruling by the Polish Constitutional Court has struck down a provision of the country’s abortion law banning abortion of fetuses with congenital defects, even when the fetus has no chance of survival at birth. This has led to already Europe’s most strict legislation on abortion to be further tightened and provoking an outcry from rights group.
Abortion has been a deeply divisive issue in the mainly catholic country, Poland, which already had one of the strictest laws in Europe. However, for years opinion polls have showed a clear majority against the latest tightening of the law.
Since 1993, Poland has allowed abortions only in case of rape or incest, a threat to the mother’s life or a deformed fetus. The country of 38 million people sees fewer than 2000 legal abortions a year, but women’s groups estimate upto 200,000 procedures are performed illegally or abroad.
Almost all legal abortions – 98% last year in Poland – have so far been carried out on grounds of severe foetal defect, which has now been ruled out as a valid reason.
Political agendas at play
The abortion ruling which is final and cannot be appealed drew immediate condemnation and anger on the ruling right-wing party, the Law and Justice (PiS) party.
Given the backlash, the PiS-alligned President, Andrzej Duda is now compelled to consider a new proposal that would allow abortion in cases of life-threatening birth defects but not for conditions such as Down’s syndrome.
Duda's proposal is likely to be criticized from both the sides – as too weak by the extreme
right of the ruling coalition and as not going far enough by those leading the protests.
Activists seek to keep up the pressure while also demanding a more liberal abortion law and the resignation of the country’s right-wing government.
Polish reactions on near-total abortion law
The Warsaw protests have brought hundreds of thousands of people to the streets. Many carried signs with the movement’s logo, the silhouette of a suffragette with a red lightning bolt and the words “Strajk Kobiet”, or Women’s Strike.
Amid the mass protests, the government has not implemented the court ruling meaning a tactical victory so far for the Women’s Strike.
The right-wing government (Pis) seem to have been taken by surprise by the size of the protests which have also contributed to unusually strong criticism towards Catholic church.
There is also anger at the way the government pushed the change through without parliamentary debate or public consultation.