Faculty of Law, University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland,
Erasmus student at Faculty of Law in Maribor
Currently in Poland, abortion is allowed only in three narrowly proscribed categories of cases. They are enumerated in the Act of family planning, protection or the human foetus and conditions for the admissibility of termination of pregnancy, which was enacted in 1993. Accordingly to Article 4a:
‘The termination of pregnancy can only be made by a doctor if:
- Pregnancy is threat to the life or health of a pregnant woman,
- Prenatal tests or the other medical premises indicate a high probability of severe and irreversible impairment of the foetus or an incurable disease threatening his life,
- There is a reasonable suspicion that the pregnancy arose as the result of prohibited act.’
The Federation for Women and Family Planning estimates that women in Poland undergo abortions approximately 80,000 to 200,000 times a year. Approximately 15% of them are done abroad. However, the lack of official data makes it difficult to determine the exact number of abortion underground and abortion tourism (this means performed abroad) in Poland. According to the Government’s report from 2016 concerning the implementation of the Act about family planning, in 2014 the only 971 legal abortions were performed.
The attempt to change rules in 2016
On July 5, 2016 the ‘Stop Abortion’ campaign group proposed the draft law, signed by half million Polish citizens, calling for a total ban on abortions. The official aim of the project was the extension of the legal protection of life. Doctors already risk punishment if they carry out an illegal abortion. Under the new, more stringent law, abortions would be punishable with a five-year prison term. Moreover, a women undergoing an abortion would be punished as well. One month later, on August 4, 2016 the Committee ‘Let’s Save The Woman’ gathered 215,000 signatures under the draft law proposing the unlimited possibility of an abortion any time up until 12th week of pregnancy. This new draft law also contained provisions regarding both sexual education and contraception methods.
On September 23, 2016 during Parliament’s meeting, the proposal of ‘Stop Abortion’ has been submitted for further consideration, whereas the initiative of ‘Let’s Save The Woman’ was rejected. In response, on Monday on October 3, 2016 tens of thousands of people, protested the proposal in many cities across Poland.
On October 5, 2016 The European Parliament held a debate on the position of women in Poland. The reason for it was the submitting by Polish government the project, which banned the abortion, for the further procedure. During the debate the EU commissioner for Justice and Gender Equality, Vera Jourova, stressed that ’Respect of women’s rights end gender equality are basis for European integration, however, EU has no competence towards state’s abortion policy and cannot intervene in such cases.’.
Eventually, Poland’s Parliament rejected the proposal at the meeting on October 6, 2016.
In response to the attempts to severely restrict the circumstances under which a woman can have an abortion, tens of thousands of Polish citizens participated in demonstrations. They were conducted, under the initiative of the liberal political party ‘Together’ (Razem), throughout September. The demonstrators put on black clothes, to show the resistance against ban of abortion. The result was that it came to be known as ‘black protest’. The campaign was also conducted on the Internet. On social media people published selfies in black clothes with the hashtag #blackprotest.
The main demonstrations, however, took place on October 3, 2016. Organised by feminist groups, these demonstrations were called ‘the national strike of women’ or just ‘black Monday’. Women from every age class – teenagers and grandmothers; mothers and daughters – put on black clothes. Women at work; those in public on the streets; and, even those women travelling by train on that day, all wore black. And despite bad weather, they all took their umbrellas and marched to the city squares. The main slogan of protest was the right of women to decide on birth of a child. According to police estimates, 143 demonstrations took place, in which, approximately, 98,000 demonstrators participated. At the climax, on the main square in Warsaw, there were approximately 30,000 people according to City Hall. Demonstrations against the tightening of the abortion policy in Poland took place all over the world, including: Brussels, London, Paris, Berlin or Kiev. Human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, have harshly criticized the plans, calling them “a dangerous backward step for women and girls in Poland.” Protest actions have gained enormous publicity in global media. Hashtag #blackprotest received the largest coverage among Polish-language topics in 2016.
The attempt to change law in 2017
On October 23, 2017 the committee ‘Let’s Save the Woman 2017’ filed a citizen’s draft law, proposing the liberalization of anti-abortion law. This was signed by almost half a million Polish citizens. The proposal calls for the possibility of an abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy; sexual education in primary schools; a public list of doctors relying on clause of conscience; and, access to emergency contraception without a prescription.
On October 27, 2017 a group of commissioners, which were members of conservatives parties (e.g. Law and Justice, Kukiz’15), submitted an application to the Constitutional Tribunal. It referred to the provision of the Act on family planning, which provides for the possibility of terminating pregnancy in the case of foetal defects and held it was contrary to the Constitution of the Republic of Poland.
On November 30, 2017 the committee ‘Stop Abortion’ submitted to the Parliament a draft law to abolish the right to abortion in the case of a high probability or severe and irreversible impairment of the foetus or an incurable disease threatening the foetus’s life. The proposal was supported by 830,000 of Polish citizens.
The case is still pending. It is hard to estimate what will be the closing decision, but complete ban of abortion is according to the policy of ruling party (Law and Justice). The latest opinion in the matter of UN project of adjusting abortion is the best proof. The case raises a lot of controversy and the view of the Polish society is divided.