Following months of protests, the Polish government pushed through a controversial ruling that almost completely bans abortions. The ruling was first announced back in October but had been delayed for months after mass protests—the largest the nation had seen in decades. The ruling was published in the Official Journal, meaning it came into effect, abruptly, on Wednesday, 27 January 2021. Protests once again broke out across the country the same day. In Warsaw, thousands of Poles marched on the headquarters of the governing Law and Justice Party, chanting mantras such as “I think; I feel; I decide!” The ruling comes at a time when the government is facing growing public doubt. The increasingly autocratic Law and Justice Party is believed to be chipping away at human rights and freedoms. Many Poles are additionally discontent with the government’s handling of the pandemic and the lethargic vaccine roll-out.
The ruling pushed through on Wednesday bans abortions in the cause of fetal abnormality. Previously, abortions were legal in Poland under three circumstances: fetal malformation, the fetus being the result of rape or incest, and the life of the mother being put at risk due to the fetus. Abortion is still legal in the case of the latter two circumstances, but the vast majority of the legal abortions performed in Poland are performed due to fetal abnormalities. Roughly 2,000 legal abortions were performed in Poland during 2020, and, of these, 98 per cent were performed due to fetal abnormality. The new ruling forces individuals to seek out illegal abortions or go abroad for the procedure.
Members of European Parliament have criticized the ruling. “In every village, in every city in Europe there are women following your struggle,” said Terry Reintke, a Green lawmaker from Germany and a member of European Parliament. “Never forget you are standing on the shoulders of brave and courageous women who have fought this fight for many years.”
Though Poland is one of Europe’s most Catholic countries, opinion polls indicate that the majority of the population is nevertheless opposed to restricting abortion access. The protests further demonstrate the overwhelming dissent of the Polish population. Pushing through a ruling completely at-odds with the temperament of the population is in direct opposition to the aims of democracy, and forcing pregnant individuals to carry fetuses incompatible with life to term is, at best, traumatizing and unnecessarily cruel, and, at worst, fatal.