Imagine a world in which women cannot decide about their bodies, health, and future. Welcome to 21st century Poland.
On the 22nd of October 2020 Poland’s government-controlled constitutional court has officially removed severe or fatal fetus impairment from the list of permitted grounds for abortion. From now on, abortion is only legal if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, and if the women’s life is in danger. This means that from now on, women will have to give birth to children, even when prenatal tests diagnose them with disorders like Edwards, Patau or Warkany syndrome.
Many have found the stiffening of regulations inhuman. Giving birth to a child that will survive a few hours, days or weeks can have major implications on the mental health of a mother. In the case of children with untreatable, yet not lethal diseases, not every family has the financial resources to provide appropriate care and treatment for the child. The situation is even more controversial when timing is taken into account. Is the middle of a global pandemic the appropriate time to decide about abortion laws? Moreover, banning abortion does not stop the practice, it just makes it less safe.
The new abortion restrictions are an extension of the ongoing sexual health debate. Not only does Poland already have one of the strictest abortion rules in Europe, but also one of the poorest sex education systems in Europe. According to a report by the Current State of Sexuality, the use of modern contraception in Poland scores 47.7%”. In the UK, the prevalence of contraceptive use is 81.3 % (as of 2015). Last year there were just over 1,000 legal abortions in Poland, almost all on the grounds of fetal defects. Yet it is estimated that between 80,000 and 120,000 Polish women had an abortion in a different country.
The new abortion ban has faced massive resistance both internally and externally. A wave of protest in the streets of many big Polish cities has followed the decision. Protesters in Warsaw gathered outside the home of Jarosław Kaczyński, who is the leader of the ruling party. Police used pepper spray against the protesters. Also, many international politicians have criticized the decision. Dunja Mijatovic, the Commissioner for Human Rights (of the Council of Europe), has marked the 22nd of October a “sad day for women’s rights”.
Speaking as a Polish citizen, but more importantly a woman, I consider the decision inhumane. Each person wants to decide about their body, well-being and future based on their own values and beliefs. Why would someone take this fundamental human right away?
Image: Iga Lubczańska via Flickr