Poland Places Near-Ban On Abortions Into Effect

On Wednesday, January 27, a controversial ruling on abortion in Poland took effect. In October, a ruling by the Constitutional Court found that a 1993 law that allowed abortions in the cases of severe and irreversible fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional, triggering weeks-long protests. Under the controversial ruling, abortions may only occur in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger.

The initial outrage was vitriolic and featured two weeks of protests. Two protestors stripped naked in front of the Presidential Palace. According to analysts who had spoken to Reuters, it was one of the largest demonstrations seen since the Solidarity movement in the 1980s that ended Communist rule. In particular, young people were vocal about the issue, 23-year-old Cezary Jasiński, said that “This idiotic ruling will not prevent abortions.”

This decision, which the Polish government is enforcing after months of judgement, is being protested again. January 30 marked the third day of protests, led by a rights group known as Women’s Strike. One 31-year-old woman, Ola Bakowska told NBC News that she took to the streets to “vent her emotions” and “show [her] disagreement” with the law but was encouraged by the volume of people turning up. These people included LGBTQ individuals and climate change activists like Marek Elas, a 36-year-old environmental activist, who expressed fears that the Polish government was “working towards limiting human rights” and that they “thought women were the easiest to hit, which turned out to be untrue.” Bakowska agrees, saying that the government is “targeting many people’s rights, and not just women’s rights” with its “traditional but outdated values.”

The government is criticizing the protests in terms of their legality. Krzysztof Sobolewski, a senior official in the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, claimed that the protests were not following social distancing rules on Saturday. Fourteen arrests were made in Poland on Thursday, and many more have followed since. Eliza Rutynowska, a lawyer, working pro-bono for many implicated protestors, told NBC News that some protestors were detained as far as 25 miles away from cities. However, this has not been independently confirmed.

These critics and protestors are right. While this ruling on abortion is cruel and unnecessary, taking away Polish women’s necessary rights to participate in an optional but essential medical procedure is emblematic of a much larger problem. The government does not care about the rights of the individual in Poland. Many reproductive and human rights groups have condemned the law, warning a broader erosion of civil liberties. While this ruling may still appear reasonable, as certain life-saving abortions are still allowed, it is entirely possible that eventually, a woman’s right to this life-saving procedure could also be eroded. Other reproductive rights could be endangered, and other methods through which women are free and equal to their male counterparts.

Similarly, while this ruling does not directly affect the LGBTQ community, homophobic rhetoric and other erosions have strongly influenced them recently. Certain areas, such as Bielsko county, have published documents stating resolutions supporting “traditional family values” and rejecting the LGBTQ community. This ruling signals that it is not only regional governments who can express themselves so clearly but also the national government. Nearly a third of the country is an “LGBTQ-free zone.” However, if the government can so casually erode human rights, how easily could the entire nation become a so-called “LGBTQ-free zone”?

We must also consider the police and their use of authority and COVID-19 guidelines to stop these protests and silence these women’s voices. While this is not the first time a country has used COVID guidelines and rules on social distancing to stop protests about critical governmental decisions, it is still notable, as we can see the government’s disregard for truth and criticism. To these governments, the voices of the people they lead do not matter, and they will take any opportunity to silence these voices. These governments use the guise of protection to erode further their people’s rights, a deceitful and cruel way to hurt the very people they are meant to protect.

The first fundamental change that must occur is Poland’s approach to this ruling and similar laws. While the government must follow the constitution, as it is the backbone of any strong democracy, they must also consider the changing world around them. “Traditional society,” while still meaningful and essential to some, is changing meaning and transforming into something new that promises a better life for the young people who will be living in this country for decades to come. While this conservative government, known as the Law and Justice party, or PiS, focuses on the predominantly Catholic country and these traditional values, the erasure of other cultures and beliefs is unfair and backwards.

Traditional values are not something to throw away with a moment’s glance; they are what brought us to this point and have helped us to grow. However, they could be holding us back, keeping us from being better than we are. Families without access to safe and healthy abortions are forced to raise children without space or funds because of this lack of choice. As a result, how many unhappy children who die too early are brought into this world with terrible genetic defects? There is a reason for abortion beyond the mother’s life or cases of rape or incest. Still, PiS does not want to acknowledge these reasons because the possibility of these changes is too great, too quick for them, even though they are creating a world for the many young people who will be around for decades to come, not just for themselves.

However, Poland’s government will not change on its own. After the backwards election in 2020, PiS made it clear that it cares more about its agenda and remaining in power than the opinions of the people it is leading. The protestors are right to protest: although the government may not listen, they gain international attention. Now, it is up to the international community to sanction Poland for its actions. While several human and reproductive rights groups have spoken out, international leaders must speak out as well. People like the former Prime Minister of Belgium and the Council of Europe Secretary-General have spoken for Poland’s citizens in the past. They must remember that their statements are not one-time events but on-going messages that serve as potent reminders of Poland’s changes.

Poland’s decisions are unfair to all implicated and could potentially lead to worse outcomes and more significant erosions of rights in the future for many underrepresented groups in the country. Poland must make a change, and international leaders must push the country towards that change.

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