Poland: Abortion made illegal in 2020

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Francois Devos / Hans Lucas / Hans Lucas via AFP

Poland is among the European countries with the most restrictive abortion laws. Following a decision of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal in October 2020 that made abortion illegal in the case of a non-viable pregnancy, abortion is now only permitted where the life or health of a pregnant woman is in danger or where the pregnancy is the result of rape. Prior to this decision, "non-viable pregnancies" accounted for 98% of all abortions performed annually.

Read more about the global situation of the right to abortion in 2022

"The ban has done a lot of things. What it hasn’t done is stop abortions", points out Krystyna Kacpura, Executive Director of the Federation for Women and Family Planning. In 2022, Polish women have frequently crossed the border to seek help in Germany or other neighbouring countries. Vast numbers of others have turned to illegal abortions. Even in the rare cases where abortion remains legal, doctors are increasingly reluctant to perform the procedure for fear of being criminalised.

Under current legislation, anyone who assists a woman to perform an abortion in circumstances other than those permitted by law is liable to criminal prosecution that can even result in imprisonment. Since the ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal, at least three women have died following the refusal by medical staff to perform an abortion in cases of foetal abnormality. The judgment of 21 October 2020 and previous attempts to further limit the right to abortion were met with the largest public demonstrations in the country for decades. These were led by female human rights defenders campaigning for the repeal of the decision and the easing of current legislation. Moreover, some reports show that women’s rights defenders and LGBTI+ people face threats, intimidation and lawsuits on a daily basis.

Following the ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission concluded that the Polish Constitutional Tribunal does not meet the criteria of an independent and impartial court due to its lack of independence from legislative and executive powers. Twelve women have lodged an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that they are potential victims of a violation of their rightsto freedom from ill-treatment and to privacy, as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) has filed third-party interventions with other organisations, providing proof and analyses based on International Human Rights Law, comparative European Law and the directives of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

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