Protests over abortion in Poland reveal deep schism in society

In October, Poland became the only country in the European Union to eliminate the right to legal abortion for its citizens.

On October 22, the country’s highest court ruled that it was unconstitutional to abort a fetus if it had birth defects.

Poland’s constitution calls for the protection of the life of each individual.

The ruling was an illustration of the stark divisions in Polish society already exposed in this summer’s presidential election, which was won by conservative incumbent Andrej Duda, but with the narrowest of margins.

For Duda supporters and the Catholic Church, it was a victory.

Marek Jedraszewski, the Archbishop of Krakow, said the judges had made the courageous decision to defend human life “from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.”

Yet for many Polish women, the ruling did nothing more than toughen rules on termination of pregnancy in a country that already had some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.

Even before the ruling, many Polish women were seeking abortions in neighboring Germany or the Czech Republic.

In Poland, women can only legally abort when the pregnancy endangers the health or life of the woman, or if it is the result of rape, incest or other illegal act.

Protests across the country

Given the deep divisions in Polish society, it seemed inevitable that women, shocked by the ruling, would take to the streets to protest.

For weeks, many have gathered outside parliament carrying banners with the slogan “Women’s Strike”, in defiance of Polish laws banning mass gatherings due to the coronavirus outbreak.

But few expected the protests to last that long, or to extend to religious services, with protesters disrupting Masses across the country.

Much of the anger was directed against the Law and Justice Party, because the court’s ruling had political origins: it was the response to a motion of the right-wing MPs.

For Leah Hoctor, regional director of the NGO Center for Reproductive Rights, the Polish law was an attempt by a small section of society to “play politics with the lives of women.”

She told Euronews after the ruling: “Laws prohibiting abortion do nothing but harm women’s health and well-being by pushing them into hiding or by forcing them to travel to foreign jurisdictions, to other countries, to access care. medical “.

He said that the majority of the Polish population is not in favor of their parliamentarians using judicial means to introduce new restrictions on abortion: “It really represents the actions of a very small section of society that is playing politics with the care of the women’s health. “

Could it be reversed?

Marcin Zaborowski, editor of Res Publica Nowa magazine, said there was speculation that the government had tried to impose restrictions on abortion as a way to divert attention from its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which is “not going very well.”

He told Euronews: “I am very puzzled as to why we decided to toughen the abortion law at this time, because there was an attempt to do so a few years ago when Law and Justice came to power.” And there were protests similar to the ones there are now – they were called Black Protests, because the women dressed in black – and then [el Gobierno] decided to back off and not go ahead with the hardening of the abortion law.

“I wouldn’t be too surprised if they came up with a similar trick right now [y anular el fallo]”.

But since the decision was made by the Constitutional Court of Poland, the highest court in the country, any move to reverse its decision must come from parliament.

Ley y Justicia had said it would propose a new law to “better support women and their children,” which could be an opportunity to soften the blow of the court’s decision.

It seems unlikely that the battle in Polish society will die down anytime soon.

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