Poland’s newly proposed abortion law has tens of thousands of Polish women fearful for the protection of their rights and lives. This has motivated over seven million women in Poland, all dressed in black, to go on strike.
As a devoutly Catholic country, Poland is already one of Europe’s most restrictive countries when it comes to abortion. It will become even more restrictive by completely criminalizing abortion. While government officials are trying to push this law forward, Polish women are raising their voices and causing cities like Warsaw to go into lockdown.
Looking deeper into the newly proposed law, one begins to understand the severity of its restrictiveness. If this new law is passed, a woman in Poland will be unable to get an abortion even in cases of rape, incest, or when her life is at risk. Both the woman seeking an abortion and the doctor who offers to perform the procedure would face up to five years in prison. Additionally, this law would put women who suffer miscarriages under threat of investigation, because under the law any death of a conceived child would be punishable, even if that death was accidental or unpreventable.
Despite its religiosity, Poland is required by its constitution to protect its citizens’ quality of life without trampling on their personal freedoms. If this abortion law passes, women in Poland will no longer have the basic freedom to make personal decisions about their reproductive health, if that decision involves abortion. This newly proposed law has ignited fear in Polish women and has attracted more protesters than ever before. However, Poland’s history with restrictive abortion laws has been long and deeply rooted. In fact, abortion is one of the most controversial topics in Polish politics.
While this wave of protests is recent, Poland has had several abortion cases make their way to the European Court of Human Rights. In March 2007, the European Court of Human Rights heard the case Tysiac v. Poland, where an applicant was denied a therapeutic abortion after she was told that her health could worsen if she continued her pregnancy. The defendant was forced to go through with the delivery, causing her to suffer a retinal hemorrhage that left her severely disabled. In 2003, the Court heard another case where a mother of two, who was pregnant with a fetus with a severe genetic abnormality, was purposefully denied access to genetic tests because her doctors did not support abortion, leaving her baby to be born with abnormal chromosomes. In 2012, the Court heard a case where a teenage girl was raped and became pregnant as a result. She experienced difficulty in getting an abortion due to the medical staff purposefully procrastinating her case, and harassing her. In all these instances, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to respect for private and family life, had been violated.
This law will cause Poland to violate its obligations under international law and with the European Court of Human Rights. According to Article 8, it is a violation to restrict a woman from having access to “an effective mechanism capable of determining whether the conditions for obtaining a legal abortion” can be met. Similarly to Ireland, where the United Nations Human Rights Committee ordered the country to repeal the right to life in their constitution, Poland should not go forward with this proposed abortion law.
With more than half of the population in Poland being women, and with the fear this proposed law has already ignited across the country, Poland and its government should re-evaluate the long term implications that a more restrictive abortion law would have. No woman should feel as though she is unprotected by her government, and that she does not have the freedom to make vital, or even life-saving, personal decisions. As stated by Human Rights Watch, members of the European Parliament “should condemn the proposed law and call on the Polish government to abide by its international and European obligations and end this attack on women’s rights.” This proposed abortion law will not only be damaging for Polish women, but for the country’s future.