Fetal Rights before Women’s? Analyzing the Anti-Abortion law in the Republic of Poland

These actions are illicit, cruel, on the way to standpattism and could invade the rest of the world, beginning with Europe. Many consider this as just the beginning and if not stopped such human rights violations targeting women would spread to other parts of the world.

All societies attempt to control women’s sexuality, opinions, life and choices; following this path the Anti-Abortion law of Poland came into existence on 27 January 2021. Abortion in Poland is legal only: when the woman’s life or health is at risk by the continuation of pregnancy and when the pregnancy is a result of a criminal act, rape or incest. While the court and government support this, people came into streets and protest against the law.

This is not the first time Polish people have protested against abortion laws. In 2016, 1000s of women went on strike in protest against a proposal for a complete ban on abortions, considered it to be the death of their reproductive rights. This draft law stated any woman found to have had abortions could have faced a jail term of up to 5 years. Doctors who carried out or assisted in termination would also be likely for jailed. Poland’s strict abortion laws forced 10-15% Polish women to visit neighbouring countries for abortion.

This law unlike previous ones kept women out of the sphere of penalty for illegal termination of pregnancy; however the medical personnel ordering, persuading or carrying out the illegal abortion are subjected to criminal penalties. In case of seeking abortion in a minor, parental consent is necessary.

In Favour

Poland’s conservative government and the country’s influential Catholic Church supported the decision of the constitutional tribunal. The Court stated that abortions of deformed foetuses are unconstitutional, considering an unborn child as  a human being; hence deserves constitutional  protection under the right to life. The tribunal’s president Julia Przylebska said that sanctioning abortions in the case of foetal distortions legalised “separatism practices about an unborn child, thus denying it the protection of human dignity.” Supporters say the abortion ban violates the human rights of yet to born child. Karolina Pawlowska from the Ordo Iuris supported the ruling and said this law ends the discrimination against sick or disabled children.

Against

Poland hardly experience 2,000 legal abortions each year because of fetus defects, under the validation of government . Terminations in cases of rape, incest or because of threat to the mother’s life are exclusively 2% of all legal abortions, hence, referring to a complete ban on abortions in the country, resulted in indignation. Critics opposing the court’s decision, accused the court of gratifying the ruling party. Report points out that 11/12 of the judges were appointed by the ruling conservative regime. Opposition lawmaker Barbara Nowacka pointed out that the decision of court shows life and respect of women are less crucial to them than life of a foetus. In Poland, human rights activists are deprived of their freedom to protest, their freedom of assembly as they are charged for organising protests. Doctors are terrified of the changes because the government is putting a lot of pressure on hospitals and all on medical professionals with the immense threat of execution against doctors.

I feel like, this law snatch basic rights, right to decide about own body, right to choose what one wants to do and whether one wants to bear children or not, from the women of Poland. By and large, constitutionally women hold right to abortion. Banning abortion violates women’s constitutional right to an abortion. United Nations clearly stated that women have a right to safe abortion, and denying them access to safe abortion is a violation of their ‘human rights’. Thereafter, the U.N. warned various states with harsh abortion bans, like Chile and Ireland, for contravention of international human rights treaties.

Post-enactment of Abortion Law

People started opting for alternatives, as this law doesn’t prove to be fruitful for all. Some instances of affected women are as follow-

  1. Maja, a 27-year-old of the northeastern Polish region, was neither economically nor emotionally ready for another child when she deteced she was pregnant. As abortion wasn’t legal in her place, as her last option she chose to consume abortion pills at home while breastfeeding 11-month-old baby.
  2. Another woman,  Anita, wanted a child but got to know that due to a congenital defect, her baby would die within a few hours of birth – if not before in her 13th week of pregnancy. Due to existing Polish law, she was told to wait until she miscarried.

Some initiatives were taken to help women prevent unwanted pregnancy-

  1. Abortion without Borders, an initiative to support women in accidental pregnancies in Poland and abroad, to access abortion, either at home – using pills – or abroad, in clinics, after the court ruling.
  2. Women Help Women, a group providing postal access to abortion pills, says it has provided help to 10,000 Polish people.
  3. The Abortion Abroad initiative raised over €91,000 of funds and used it to cover the costs of abortion and pills, travel, accommodation and COVID tests in 6 months after the ruling.
  4. Strict abortion restrictions and no availability of safe clinics left poor women with fewer  options to safely terminate a pregnancy, with no choice left many will turn to unsafe measures.  Women of financial means can travel to states where abortion is legal, this will not cost them much.

These actions are illicit, cruel, on the way to standpattism and could invade the rest of the world, beginning with Europe. Many consider this as just the beginning and if not stopped such human rights violations targeting women would spread to other parts of the world. Bolder reactions from the EU and other international institutions to the Poland situation are still awaited.

REFERENCES

https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-why-polish-women-are-protesting-a-recent-court-ruling-on-abortions-6883121/

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55838210

https://www.euronews.com/2021/05/12/100-days-since-poland-banned-abortion-polish-women-are-fighting-back

Rakshita Joshi is a third-year student majoring in Political Science and History from Miranda House, University of Delhi. She has a keen interest in IR, social and political issues. She finds joy in reading mythology, writing, cooking and trying new things. She wants to be in academia and writing to make an impact on society.

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