Poland Nears a Total Abortion ban as More Women Travel Abroad for Procedure

people walking on street protesting Abortion ban

Poland’s abortion law

Poland’s abortion ban is among the strictest in Europe — though it has yet to take effect. 

More than half a million Polish citizens took to the streets as they protested the October 22nd ruling by a top court that banned abortion of fetuses with congenital defects, Euronews reported. Lawmakers from Poland’s ruling party reportedly pushed for the court review on the new ban. 

According to the New York Times, before the decision — which cannot be appealed — Poland only permitted legal abortion on three occasions: fetuses with fetal abnormalities, pregnancies that threaten the woman’s health, or in the case of incests or rape. 

One of the three is now prohibited — terminating pregnancies for fetal abnormalities. 

Poland already had one of the strict abortion laws in Europe before the October 22nd Constitutional Tribunal ruling. 

A Fight Over Human Rights

The BBC reported that there were more than 1,000 legal abortions in Poland last year.

Out of the 1,100 abortion performed in 2019, 1,074 were due to fetal abnormalities, The New York Times explained. The number increased throughout the years from 138 in 2000 to 641 in 2010 and to more than 1,110 in 2019.

Protesters gather in the capital Warsaw against the new abortion legislation on Friday © REUTERS | Retrieved from: Financial Times

An opinion poll suggested that 59% of Poles disagreed with the new ruling.

It’s about freedom of choice,” said Agnieszka Kranz, a telecom company manager who is against the new abortion ban. “The ban sparked a fight about our basic human rights in general […] Step by step we have slowly been losing the universally acclaimed basic human rights.”

Others, however, support the new ruling.  

Karolina Pawlowska, a lawyer, told the BBC that the ruling is a major step for Poland towards realizing human rights. “All human rights treaties show the most important right is the right to life and it’s clearly stated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that every child should be protected before and after birth,” she said. 

Polish Women are Heading Abroad for Abortions

The BBC indicated that women’s right groups estimate that between 80,000 and 120,000 Polish women seek abortion abroad every year. Even when women qualify for legal abortion procedures in the country, they face significant stigma around the issue. 

For instance, in 2016 the Associated Press reported that a 19-year-old named Monika crossed the border to Germany where she had a safe and legal abortion. Monika had just split up with her boyfriend when she realized she was pregnant. With no partner, financial stability and years of education ahead, she felt an abortion was her only option. But soon came a realization that in Poland, abortion is illegal in most cases. So much so that she tracked down a doctor to bend the rules, of which he refused. 

The Associated Press also reports that many women travel to The Netherlands, Czech Republic or Slovakia for abortions. 

Poland is a strong Catholic country with a long history of restricting abortion. Recently, however, Polish hospitals have started to turn away more women who seek the procedure. 

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Hospitals are Turning Away Abortion Patients 

The Guardian indicated that one Polish woman who is 16 weeks pregnant was turned away from a local clinic despite being booked for the abortion and having documentation confirming the fetus was severe malformed. 

She isn’t alone. The Federation for Women and Family Planning, a non-governmental organization fighting for reproductive health and rights based in Warsaw, Poland, told The Guardian that they received dozens of calls from distressed women, Most of those call come from women who were turned away by their clinics, despite having pre-existing appointments due to fetus abnormalities.

As of now, only time will tell when or if the new abortion ban will be go into effect.

 

Written By: J. Laura

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Emerald contributor since July 2020
Journalist and contributor for Emerald; covering the social, cultural, political and medical side of cannabis and other (mostly sensitive) issues. For any collaborations or tips, email me at [laura@emeraldmg.com].

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