Why a New Abortion Ban in Poland Is Tearing the Nation Aside

Tens of thousands of Poles have defied Covid-19 restrictions to protest a new Supreme Court ruling that puts a near-complete ban on abortion, blocks major roads and bridges, and chants anti-government slogans.

The demonstrators, some of them disguised as characters from “The Handmaid’s Tale”, have even destroyed crowds and destroyed churches – a rare case in which they attacked the government’s ally, the Catholic Church, in the strictly Catholic country.

The protests began Thursday over the ruling that tightened what was already the most restrictive abortion law in Europe. But it has increasingly become a broader expression of anger at a right-wing government accused of hijacking the judiciary and violating the rights of women and minorities.

“What happens in public space, this aggression, attacks, barbarism is unacceptable,” said Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Tuesday. “I do not give my consent to attack people, churches and the right to pursue the values ​​of others,” he added, calling on the demonstrators not to commit aggression.

Here’s a look at how the problem got into such a flash point.

Prior to Thursday’s Constitutional Court ruling, Poland had only allowed dismissals for fetal abnormalities, in the event of a woman’s health being endangered, or in the case of incest or rape. In practice, the vast majority of legal abortions – 1,074 out of 1,100 performed last year – resulted from fetal abnormalities.

However, the latest court ruling said abortion for fetal abnormalities is against the constitution – a decision that cannot be appealed.

However, this category of abortions makes up only a small fraction of those that Polish women have received. Many already go abroad for abortions or have them illegally. Common obstacles to legal dismissal are long waiting times and the refusal of doctors to perform them.

Doctors in Poland can refuse to have a legal abortion and they can also refuse to prescribe contraceptives for religious reasons. And there is very little financial and psychological support for families with disabled children who have to look after themselves after the child is born.

In the court ruling, the President of the Tribunal, Julia Przylebska, said that allowing abortions due to fetal abnormalities legalized “eugenic practices”. Since the Polish Constitution guarantees the protection of human life, dismissal for the health of a fetus is “a directly prohibited form of discrimination”.

Protesters are calling for the court to be reversed and a growing number are calling for the abortion law to be liberalized. The protests have spread from town to town and village, and women’s groups have found support from some unlikely corners, including taxi drivers, farmers and miners, each with their own complaints against the government.

The ruling Law and Justice Party has largely overturned the independence of the judiciary and incited international condemnation. Opponents say the party is now using submissive courts to achieve what it cannot legally do, which the government denies.

The government has repeatedly tried to tighten the abortion law but has failed to get the vote in parliament. Surveys have shown that most citizens are against new borders and that every attempt has been answered with mass demonstrations.

Analysts say that with the pandemic and the next election in three years’ time, the time was ripe for a new strategy. Instead of trying again to pass laws, right-wing lawmakers called on the Constitutional Court, Poland’s highest court, to review the law.

But many women say they are being used as farmers in the ruling party’s efforts to distract the public from treating the coronavirus pandemic, with cases increasing and hospitals increasingly overwhelmed. In the past month, Poland has become one of the hardest hit countries in the world and put a strain on its health system. The president, Andrzej Duda, tested positive on Saturday.

Critics say the ruling Law and Justice Party is commanding church leaders and right-wing groups, forcing women to choose whether to have dangerous illegal abortions, go abroad for abortions, or have children with difficult – often fatal – children want to bring. Health problems.

The ruling party, which took power in 2015, presents itself as a defender of traditional Catholic values ​​and denigrates its opponents as anti-Polish and anti-Christian. At the center of this vision are Polish women as wives and mothers, and women’s rights groups are portrayed as dangerous actors in liberal Western propaganda.

They weren’t the party’s only target. At the height of the European migration crisis, justice and justice presented refugees as a threat to Christian civilization – but later agreed to accept Christian ones. After this problem subsided, during recent political campaigns the right turned much of its attention to gay people, painting them as a threat to Polish life and values.

Law and Justice have taken up complaints from the European Union about Poland’s illiberal course as evidence that the bloc is promoting “foreign” ideas that threaten to undermine Polish sovereignty.

Protesters use an intentionally vulgar slogan to shock people and send the message that good-natured approaches did not work. And they broke the longstanding social taboo against the challenge of the church.

The Catholic Church, perhaps the most influential pillar of Polish society since the fall of communism, has long put pressure on the government to tighten or prevent access to abortion.

On Sunday, women’s rights activists protested in the streets and disrupted church services across Poland. They held up anti-government and anti-church banners that read: “This is war” or “We have enough” and “We will not fall victim. “

In some locations, groups of young men and women faced priests and protesters painted graffiti on the walls of churches and cathedrals across the country. Since the demonstrations began, far-right activists have been defending churches and confronting protesters, sometimes with physical violence, in a reflection of what critics call an alliance between the government, the Catholic Church and right-wing groups.

In Konstancin Jeziorna, a green suburb of Warsaw, a monument to Pope John Paul II was doused with red paint – a once unthinkable affront to a national hero.

Under communism, Poland and other Soviet bloc states had some of the most liberal abortion laws. Women’s rights activists helped Swedes travel to Poland for abortions.

But the country now has one of the most restrictive abortion laws among richer countries in the world, which was passed in 1993. The Supreme Court ruling takes the country even further from the mainstream.

Almost all of Europe has abortion on demand up to some point in pregnancy. The United States is doing the same, although many states have made it difficult to access.

On the day the Supreme Court ruled on abortion, the governments of Poland, the United States and several other countries including Uganda, Hungary, Belarus and Saudi Arabia signed the Geneva Consensus Declaration, a declaration calling into question the right to abortion .

Anatol Magdziarz contributed to the reporting.

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