Police have used pepper spray against hundreds of people in Warsaw protesting a recent ruling that almost completely bans abortions.
Protesters were stationed outside the home of Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski following a ruling from the Constitutional Court that declared abortions in the case of fetal deformities illegal. Protests are occurring all over Poland, in defiance of the country’s ban on large public gatherings, imposed in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. One of these protests took place in Warsaw on the night of Thursday, 22 October, outside the home of Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who heads the governing right-wing Law and Justice party. Police officers used pepper spray and physical force when protesters encroached on the property. Police say some protesters threw stones at the home. 15 people were detained.
Poland’s abortion laws are historically some of Europe’s strictest. Up until the recent ruling abortion was legal in Poland under specific circumstances: when the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, when the life of the mother was endangered, and in the case of fetal malformation. The recent ruling declared abortion in the case of fetal malformation unconstitutional. This forces pregnant people to carry fetuses incompatible with life to term. The apparent cruelty of this law resounded with the protestors, some of whom were carrying signs with the word “torture” written across them.
Fewer than 2,000 legal abortions were performed in Poland last year. However women’s rights groups estimate that up to 200,000 abortions were performed either illegally or abroad. Of the 2,000 legal abortions, 98% were performed due to a malformed fetus.
Poland is one of Europe’s most Catholic countries, however opinion polls suggest that the majority of the population is opposed to restricting abortion access.
The ruling was condemned by the Council of Europe, continent’s leading human rights organization. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also condemned the ruling.
It is clear that the new ruling does not seek to maintain the health and safety of the menstruating population. When access to abortion is restricted individuals are forced to travel abroad or seek out dangerous underground methods for pregnancy termination. It seems this was already happening on a large scale in Poland, with there being nearly a hundred times more illegal abortions performed compared to legal ones, even before this new restrictive law. For the health and safety of the population, reproductive rights should be placed back where they belong—in the hands of the people directly affected.
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