Poland’s near-total ban on abortion just got even more airtight, and in response, thousands of protestors are taking to the streets of Warsaw and other Polish cities to fight for reproductive rights. The ruling, which overturns a 1993 law that allowed abortions in cases of foetal abnormalities, was abruptly implemented late Wednesday — and critics believe the timing is intentional.
The decision was originally made by the Constitutional Tribunal back in October. It was delayed after approximately 430,000 Poles protested the decision in what analysts say were the largest protests Poland had seen in over forty years. On Wednesday, the Polish government announced that the rule was published in the government’s journal and had gone into effect.
Even before the new ruling, Poland had one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws, causing many people — approximately 200,000 Poles a year, according to the BBC — to travel outside the country or seek illegal (and unsafe) procedures. Until now, individuals could get abortions under three circumstances: rape or incest, threats to their lives, or foetal abnormalities. But abortions due to foetal defects, now made illegal, make up the majority of legal procedures performed in Poland. According to the Polish Ministry of Health, 98% of abortions carried out in 2019 were due to foetal abnormalities.
Poland is currently ruled by the conservative Law and Justice Party, led by Jarosław Kaczyński. Borys Budka, the leader of the opposing Civic Platform party, criticised the new abortion law as “cynical” and “cowardly.” He accused Kaczyński of “setting fire to Poland” to cover up the government’s failure to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Poland has been hit particularly hard by the crisis. Just this week, the daily newspaper Dziennik Gazeta Prawna reported that in 2020, the country had seen its highest number of deaths since World War II. “We have a huge demographic crisis,” said economic Rafal Mundry, according to ABC News. As a result, gatherings of more than five people are prohibited in Poland. Kaczyński accused Wednesday’s protestors of disregarding guidelines and endangering lives — which, ironically, is exactly what he’s doing by corroding reproductive rights during a time of vulnerability and distress.
Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, chairman of another opposing party, agreed with Budka. “A record number of deaths… the chaos with vaccinations, and the government is once again sparking an ideological war,” he tweeted. “Destroying the abortion compromise and taking away freedom of choice in a pandemic is despicable.”