Protests have erupted once again throughout Poland over the ban on medical abortion decreed by a ruling of the pro-government Constitutional Court. Thousands of people took to the streets in major cities of the country, but also in Rzeszów, a city in the deep south-east located in the region of Precarpathia, one of the strongholds of the right-wing populist Law and Justice party (PiS).
On Friday, the “National Women’s Strike” (Osk), one of the pro-choice movements behind the protests of recent months, has asked protesters to make an effort and get to Warsaw for an afternoon mobilization that aims to make traffic in the Polish capital slow to a crawl.
“Leave a mark, express your anger as if you were at home,” exhorted the leader of OSK, Marta Lempart. She also called on protesters not to accept fines from law enforcement personnel in the absence of information on the specific nature of the violation committed. Although the government has announced the reopening of shopping malls, museums and galleries from February 1, gatherings of more than 5 people will continue to be prohibited due to COVID-19.
On Wednesday afternoon, the court made public the final opinion justifying its ruling. This was a signal interpreted by the government as a final green light for the publication of the ruling in the official journal, which took place in the evening, as the first protests gathered in the nation’s capital, in front of the headquarters of PiS and the court headed by Julia Przyłebska, a “loyalist” of the deputy Prime Minister and leader of the party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
The decision, which makes it effectively impossible to resort to voluntary interruptions of pregnancy for all women who have become aware that the fetus is damaged, dates back to October 22. But why did the court wait so long to publish it? On the one hand, the leadership of PiS, aware that they were walking on eggshells on such a sensitive issue, hoped in vain that tempers would cool down after the demonstrations of dissent in recent months.
On the other hand, Kaczynski’s party, which is declining in popularity, had taken time to work under the radar on a legislative compromise, to which Polish President Andrzej Duda, also from PiS, has personally committed himself. Duda wanted the Sejm, the lower house of Parliament, to pass a law allowing women the possibility of abortion in the case of “lethal” malformations. In order to avoid vagueness, such a measure would have to include, in a rather macabre way, a list of pathologies for which therapeutic abortion would not be permitted: cases of fetuses diagnosed with Down’s syndrome would almost certainly end up on this list.
The idea of the Polish president did not arouse enthusiasm among the elected members of PiS, who couldn’t come up with a unified position for a vote. Not to mention the allies of Kaczynski’s party who are “even further to the right” in the Sejm, such as the sovereignists of Solidarity Poland (SP), the party of the “Super-minister of Justice” and attorney general Zbigniew Ziobro. With perfect timing, Ziobro’s party just reintroduced a bill for the setting up of “perinatal hospices,” facilities aimed at offering psychological support to women in difficulty before and after pregnancy who have now been deprived of the right to choose.
The court’s ruling is a political one, flawed by formal errors and based on very shaky foundations: the justification reads, for example, that “the probability of being in the presence of irreversible damage to the fetus or an incurable disease” does not entail “any automatic presumption of violation of the welfare of the pregnant woman.”
Thus, the sentence implicitly doesn’t exclude the risk of physical and psychological damage to the mother who bears such a fetus, who is now no longer allowed to protect her health. There are many politicians from the opposition who think that the protests should continue in the streets to the bitter end: “The text published by the Court is worth as much as a roll of toilet paper. We have to cover up properly and fight for our rights,” said Lewica (“Left”) MP Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus.