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Is Poland going towards a total ban on abortion?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

By Olivier Bault.

Update – 09/23/2016: The project of liberalization of abortion was rejected in first reading, the project of abortion ban was referred back to committee.
On Friday, the Polish Parliament decided to refer in Commission of Justice and Human Rights the citizen legislation bill to ban abortion in all cases except when it comes to save the pregnant woman’s life. The Nowoczesna Liberal Party had sought for dismissal at first reading of the bill, but members decided otherwise. Nowoczesna’s motion was rejected by 267 MPs against 154 and 11 abstentions. The project for a liberalization of abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy has meanwhile been rejected in first reading by 230 votes against 173 and 15 abstentions.

Poland – The Polish parliament was to consider Thursday, September 22 at first reading two citizen initiatives on abortion which are considered projects of law. The second initiative, launched by feminist circles in response to the first, would legalize abortion on demand up to the 12th week of pregnancy. For Poland, since a law passed in 1993, called “compromise on abortion”, abortions are prohibited except in three cases: when the pregnancy endangers the life or physical health of the pregnant woman (as the fetus would not survive naturally outside its mother’s body), if prenatal tests or other medical symptoms show that there is a high probability of serious and incurable deficiency of the fetus or incurable illness making her life safe (as the fetus would not survive naturally out of its mother’s body), and there is a strong presumption that the pregnancy is the result of an act prohibited by law (rape, incest … – up to the 12th week of pregnancy). Despite these restrictions, legal abortions are rising. There is every year a few rare cases of abortion due to rape or incest (eg 3 out of 744 abortions in 2013). Unsafe abortions are in 90% of cases a genetic deficiency of the child conceived (mainly trisomy 21).

The first citizens’ initiative, launched in the spring, wants to end these particular eugenic abortions by prohibiting abortion except when totally abortion would be the consequence of medical care to save the pregnant woman’s life. If this citizen bill passed, abortion will lead to imprisonment (up to five) in all cases, for all the people involved with or assist, even if the judges can not punish the mother of the aborted child in the circumstances. The bill also provides for the State an obligation of aid and assistance to the pregnant woman and the child’s family in cases where abortion is permitted today. Note that weak sanctions, and the absence of sanctions against women who have abortions are one of the law Achilles heel of the 1993 abortion (1).

If the feminist bill has no chance, pro-abortion party (left) is no longer at all represented in the Polish parliament since the elections of 25 October 2015, the bill pro-life organizations, supported by the Catholic Church, this time could pass, even if it is not a foregone conclusion. Indeed, many MPs, including within the ranks of the PiS, afraid to touch the “compromise” of 1993. Nevertheless, the PiS, which has an absolute majority in parliament, argued in opposition, initiatives parliamentarians and citizens from the direction of a near total ban in 2011, 2013 and 2015. and MPs are even more under pressure than a survey conducted in May 2016 by the Ibris institute showed that a majority Poles support this new law: 58% of respondents want abortion is allowed only to save the life of the mother of the child (a proportion that reaches 57.9% among women and 59.5 % of men), against 30% who oppose new restrictions or would rather liberalization. In the age group of 18-24 years, a total ban (except to save a pregnant woman’s life) even won 79.2% of membership! Conversely, in people over 65, who have experienced the trivialization of abortion under the communist regime, only 48.7% of people support a ban.

The various surveys conducted since the 1993 Act show a general trend of Polish society towards a better respect for the right to life. According to a CBOS survey published in 2013, 75% of Poles regard abortion as an evil that can in no way be justified. Another survey published in 2012 showed that 80% of Poles “human life must be protected from the ever conception to natural death and whatever the circumstances.”

Going against the grain of what is happening in most European countries, the Polish example proves that it is still possible to change attitudes in favor of the right to life from conception even after decades of trivializing the ‘abortion.

(1) In an article published on illegal abortions in 2011, the Catholic weekly Gość Niedzielny gave the number of convictions for previous years for acts related to illegal abortions or incitement to commit such acts: the number has fluctuated between 14 and 42 convictions a year between 2003 and 2008. of course We can not know the number of abortions carried out illegally since the people involved have no interest in revealing them. However, if we look at the number of legal abortions performed in Poland until 1993 and then in 1997, is easy to see the highly unlikely nature of the figures put forward by the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning, which spoke of a hundred thousand or two hundred thousand illegal abortions each year (while specifying for this second figure that was supposed to include the Polish women living in Britain, although British hospitals do not provide nationalities by statistics). While women could freely to end their pregnancy in the first months of gestation, there were 59,417 abortions in 1990, 30,878 in 1991 and 11,640 in 1992, against 130-140 000 a year in the 80 . in 1997, during the period from 4 January to 23 December where abortion “on demand” was legal again (post-communist SLD social Democratic party in 1997 added a fourth reason for a woman to be abortion, economic and social situation, but the Polish Constitutional court invalidated the amendment of the law because of its incompatibility with the right to life guaranteed by the Polish constitution), there had only 3047. estimates of the weekly Gość Niedzielny advancing a range of 6000 to 22,000 illegal abortions per year on the basis of generally observed relation between number of legal abortions and number of illegal abortions seem so much more reliable in view of evolution “pro-life” of Polish attitudes since the 1993 law.

Translated from French by the Visegrád Post.