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Polish court allows stricter abortion law, sparking outcry

Poland’s constitutional court has struck down a provision of the country’s abortion law allowing Europe’s most strict legislation to be further tightened and provoking an outcry from rights groups.

Chief justice Julia Przylebska said in a ruling on Thursday existing legislation, which allows for the abortion of malformed fetuses, was “incompatible” with the constitution.

The verdict, which is final and cannot be appealed, drew immediate condemnation from the Council of Europe, whose Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic called it “a sad day for #WomensRights”.

“Removing the basis for almost all legal abortions in #Poland amounts to a ban & violates #HumanRights,” Mijatovic tweeted.

“Today’s ruling … means underground/abroad abortions for those who can afford & even greater ordeal for all others.”

Since 1993, Poland has only allowed abortions in case of rape or incest, a threat to the mother’s life or a deformed fetus.

Now the court ruling could pave the way for legislators from the governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party to approve draft legislation that would ban pregnancy terminations in the case of fetuses with congenital birth defects.

Many Polish women bridled when PiS backed the bill originating as a popular petition earlier this year, prompting conservative legislators to refer the matter to the constitutional court.

The tribunal, whose main role is to ensure any law complies with the constitution, underwent government reforms in 2016 that led critics to contend it is stacked with PiS allies.

Police separate pro-choice activists, right, carrying a poster saying ‘We are not incubators’ from anti-abortion rights protesters, left, in front of Poland’s constitutional court in Warsaw [Wojtek Radwanski/AFP]

‘Blood on your hands’

Former liberal Polish Prime Minister and PiS critic, Donald Tusk, called the timing of the abortion issue “political wickedness”.

“Throwing the topic of abortion and a ruling by a pseudo-court into the middle of a raging pandemic is more than cynical,” the head of the European People’s Party tweeted.

The NGO Action Democracy, which had gathered more than 210,000 signatures against the stricter law, issued a statement saying the court delivered “a shameful, political verdict dictated by right-wing fundamentalists”.

Leftist legislator Barbara Nowacka blamed the devoutly Catholic country’s bishops, telling them at a news conference in parliament: “You have blood on your hands.”

PiS-allied President Andrzej Duda has said if approved by the parliament he would sign the draft legislation into law.

On Thursday, his spokesman Blazej Spychalski said “the president’s views on this matter are well-known and haven’t changed. We’re satisfied that the constitutional court sided with life”, he was quoted by the Polish news agency PAP as saying.

The country of 38 million people sees fewer than 2,000 legal abortions a year, but women’s groups estimate up to 200,000 procedures are performed illegally or abroad.

An attempt by the PiS government to tighten the abortion law in 2016 was scrapped following nationwide protests by tens of thousands of women dressed in black.

 

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