Abortion in Poland
Abortion in Poland is illegal except in cases of rape, when the woman's life is in jeopardy, or if the fetus is irreparably damaged. In 2016, with proposed legislation to completely outlaw abortion, 30,000 women went on strike and marched in cities across the country to protest their further loss of reproductive rights, leading high-ranking politicians to distance themselves from the proposed law. Just three days after the strike, lawmakers voted against the new law.
Poland is one of the few countries in the world to outlaw abortion after decades of complete legalisation (during Communist rule). Polish women often seek abortion care in neighboring countries due to the strict restraints in their own country.
- When the woman's life or health is endangered by the continuation of pregnancy,
- When the pregnancy is a result of a criminal act, or
- When the fetus is seriously malformed
Unlike in other countries where abortion is banned, women in Poland are not subject to a penalty for illegal termination of pregnancy. Consent of a physician is required for circumstances (1) and (3) above, while abortions in view of circumstance (2) above must be certified by prosecutor. Parental consent is always required if the woman seeking abortion is a minor.
In addition, persuading a woman to carry out illegal termination of her pregnancy is a criminal act.
Until 1932, abortion was banned in Poland without exceptions. In that year, the new Penal Code legalised abortion only when there were medical reasons and, for the first time in Europe, when the pregnancy resulted from a criminal act. Except during the German occupation during the Second World War, this law was in effect from 1932 to 1956. In Nazi Germany, which included territories of Poland 1939-1945, the penalties for abortion were increased and in 1943, providing an abortion to an "Aryan" woman became a capital offence. Abortion was permitted if the foetus was deformed or disabled. In 1956 the Sejm legalised abortion in cases where the woman was experiencing "difficult living conditions". The interpretation of the change in the law varied from a restrictive interpretation, in the late 1950s, to one in where abortion was allowed on request, in the 1960s and 1970s. It was not uncommon that women from countries where abortions were restricted, such as Sweden, travelled to Poland to carry out abortions which were accessible and affordable there.
The procedural requirements needed for obtaining a legal abortion were changed several times throughout the years, in 1956, 1959, 1969, 1981 and 1990. The most important change was that of 1990, after Communism fell, when Ordinance of 30 April 1990 made access to abortion more difficult. A major change came in 1993, when the law was further tightened, removing entirely the "difficult living conditions" as a ground for abortions. As such, abortions could be legally obtained only in cases of serious threat to the life or health of the pregnant woman, as attested by two physicians, cases of rape or incest confirmed by a prosecutor, and cases in which prenatal tests, confirmed by two physicians, demonstrated that the foetus was seriously and irreversibly damaged. This law remains in place today.
Abortion is a controversial topic in Polish politics. The question of an anti-abortion constitutional amendment was one of the reasons for the split in the Law and Justice (PiS) and the creation of Prawica Rzeczypospolitej, led by Marek Jurek.
In June 2011, Polish pro-life NGOs collected over 500,000 signatures for a proposed bill to ban abortion in Poland altogether. The bill, while rejected by a majority of the MPs, got enough support to be sent to a Sejm committee in order to be subject to further amendments. The move was criticised by two right-wing opposition parties, Law and Justice and Poland Comes First, which expressed their support for the bill. The left-wing Democratic Left Alliance pursues a pro-choice policy and is against the bill. The ruling Civic Platform, while considering itself in favour of the current legislation on abortion in Poland, was divided on the matter; more than 60 of the party's MPs voted in favour of the bill.
Proposed abortion ban
In September 2015, a civil initiative to introduce a complete ban on abortion was rejected in Sejm. 178 of MPs backed the measure, while 206 voted against.
In April 2016, Polish organizations proposed amended legislation to ban abortion in all cases except to save the woman's life. The bill included penalties to abortion providers with up to five years of imprisonment. The bill passed and was debated in Sejm, beginning 22 September 2016. The Sejm voted with majority in favour of continuing work on the bill. A competing bill, proposing liberalisation of abortion laws and also supported by a civil initiative that succeeded in gathering the required number of signatures, was rejected outright in the same session of Sejm. If the law passed, Poland's abortion restrictions would mirror those of Malta and the Vatican, the two countries in Europe with the harshest restrictions on abortion.
Black Monday protests
On October 3, 2016, thousands of Polish women went on strike to oppose the proposed legislation for a total ban on abortion. The women modeled their strike on the successful strike for women's rights in Iceland in 1975, refusing to attend school, work, or participate in domestic chores. The pro-choice protesters marched in Warsaw, Gdańsk, Łódź, Wrocław, and Kraków, and demonstrators across Europe marched in solidarity. Approximately 30,000 protestors showed up to decry the new bill. Supporters of the new legislation held counterprotests and Catholic Masses to express alignment with the abortion ban.
By October 5, 2016, politicians were distancing themselves from the proposed legislation in the wake of new polls suggested that 74% of the people are supporting the current legislation. On October 6, lawmakers voted the bill down with plans to present a counterproposal from the government.
In the latest poll on abortion by the CBOS Public Opinion Research Center, 69% of Poles view abortion as immoral and unacceptable, 14% of Poles are ambivalent towards it and 14% view it as acceptable. Half of Poles oppose the right to abortion, but only one in seven (14%) supports the complete ban of all abortions, while more than one-third (36%) believe there should be exceptions. At the same time, almost half (45%) think that abortion should be permitted. In this group, 7% support abortion without restrictions, and 38% would like to see some restrictions to abortion rights.
Surveys indicate a conservative turn in the 1990s. Although the supporters of legal abortion prevailed, the difference continuously narrowed. In 2006, when the discussion about introducing a constitutional ban on abortion was publicly conducted, the opponents of legal abortion were for the first time more numerous than supporters of abortion rights. At present the proportions have returned to 2007 levels, when both groups were about equal in size.
Most Poles accept abortion in cases when it is legal under current law. The support for abortion rights when mother's life is in danger is almost universal (87%). Over three-quarters of respondents think that it should be available for women whose pregnancy threatens their health (78%), or was caused by rape or incest (78%). Three-fifths (60%) support the right to abortion if it is known that the child would be handicapped.
The support for legal abortion in cases when it is currently banned is much lower. About a quarter think that it should be legal if the woman is in a difficult material (26%) or personal (23%) situation. Almost one in five respondents (18%) think abortion should be legal if a woman does not want to have a child.
A CBOS poll from November 2014 found that a majority (55%) of Poles oppose abortion on request, with only 37% supporting it. Furthermore, 71% of Poles believe that abortion on request is inappropriate, with 20% thinking it is appropriate.
In Poland, the vast majority of abortions take place illegally, as obtaing a legal abortion is very difficult, due to many doctors refusing to perform lawful abortions due to being conscientious objectors. Estimates of illegal abortions per year put the numbers between 10,000 and 150,000, compared to only 1,000 - 2,000 legal abortions.
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