In the Polish political landscape, advocating the legalization of abortion on demand clearly means being on the left of the political spectrum. Polls show that more than three-quarters of Poles are against such a measure. Yet this is the Civic Platform’s new position, made official on Thursday.
Poland – In addition to reinstating the clause invalidated by the Constitutional Tribunal,
the former party of Donald Tusk, now led by Borys Budka, announced that it wants to introduce a new clause in the 1993 abortion law, allowing the termination of pregnancy up to the 12th week in case of difficult living conditions or risk to the pregnant woman’s mental health.
The experience of other countries shows that each one of these two conditions is sufficient in practice to enable abortion on demand, and the media comments prompted by the announcement show that Poles are not fooled.
This new position of the Civic Platform (PO), which had hitherto been in favor of maintaining what in Poland is known as the 1993 compromise, was presented by Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska. Kidawa-Błońska had been the PO’s candidate in the 2020 presidential election before being replaced, while lagging behind in opinion polls, by the mayor of Warsaw Rafał Trzaskowski, as the PO took advantage of the postponement of the elections caused by the pandemic. It was she who led the team in charge of redefining her party’s stance on abortion after the Constitutional Tribunal’s October ruling and the PO’s support for the protests that followed.
The Polish law of 1993, which revoked the legal abortion on demand that had been introduced under the communist dictatorship, allowed abortion in three cases: up to the 12th week of pregnancy if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, with no time limit if the pregnancy endangers the life or physical health of the pregnant woman, and up to the 24th week if “prenatal examinations or other medical data indicate a high probability of serious and irreversible disability of the fetus or an incurable life-threatening disease.” It is this third case, whose primary victims were children affected by Down’s syndrome, that was deemed unconstitutional in last October’s ruling.
The ruling is challenged by the PO, which has been questioning the very legitimacy of the Constitutional Tribunal since 2016. However, in order to allow abortion based on the difficult living conditions of pregnant women, the Constitution would first have to be amended. In 1997, the current judges appointed by the PiS parliamentary majority were of course not yet sitting in the Constitutional Tribunal, as Polish constitutional judges are elected by an absolute majority in the Sejm for a non-renewable nine-year term. Nonetheless, that year the Constitutional Tribunal invalidated a provision introduced in 1996 by the post-communist, left-wing parliamentary majority, authorizing abortion on the grounds of socioeconomic difficulties of pregnant women.
On the other hand, the announcement made on Thursday by the PO comes as a definite confirmation of its mutation to a left-wing party, although it was originally created as a liberal-conservative party inspired by Christian Democratic values. While Kaczyński’s Law and Justice (PiS) has remained what it was – a social-conservative party also standing in the tradition of European Christian Democracy – Donald Tusk’s former party is today an openly liberal-progressive party with The Left (Lewica) on its left flank and two parties on its right flank that now occupy the center: the agrarian PSL, which is once again presenting itself as a moderately conservative, Christian Democratic party after the failed experiment of the European Coalition, and the new party Polska 2050 founded by Szymon Hołownia, a TV presenter building his political career on his image as a progressive Catholic.
On the issue of abortion, in contrast to the PO since last Thursday, the PSL and Polska 2050 wish to restore the famous 1993 compromise and possibly hold a referendum on the issue, which allows them to maintain some vagueness, but does not resolve the issue of the unconstitutionality of abortion authorized on the grounds of a disability of the unborn child.
After the presentation of its new official position, the Civic Platform will probably lose a small number of MPs among its remaining moderately conservative members. Some had announced their departure in advance if their party were to come out in favor of legalizing abortion on demand. However, there are probably few conservatives now left in the PO, as the shift to the left had begun when Donald Tusk was still prime minister and uncontested party leader. It was then accentuated after the PO lost the 2015 elections, with a brief interlude in early 2016 when Grzegorz Schetyna, Borys Budka’s predecessor, announced his intention to return to more conservative values, a promise that was never implemented. With the election of the PO’s liberal-progressive candidate Rafał Trzaskowski as mayor of Warsaw in October 2018, followed by his LGBT+ Declaration, the European Coalition and the numerous 2019 LGBT marches, the formerly liberal-conservative party (liberal on economic issues, conservative on social issues) has embraced the LGBT agenda. Thursday’s statement on abortion completes and seals this development.
In the opinion of Roman Giertych, who is Donald Tusk’s lawyer and a former leader of the sovereignist and conservative League of Polish Families (LPR), and who was education minister in a coalition government with PiS in 2005–2007, but has since moved to the liberal camp and become very hostile to PiS and Jarosław Kaczyński, the PO has just committed a “terrible mistake.”
And he compared that mistake to previous ones: “A similar mistake was made by Ewa Kopacz [Prime Minister in 2014-15, after Donald Tusk left for Brussels] and Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, who wanted to force through a law on sex change, and by [the Mayor of Warsaw] Trzaskowski and [his deputy] Rabiej who wanted to teach children about the possibility of sex change [with the LGBT+ Declaration].
To sum up, the political landscape in Poland therefore looks as follows, from left to right: The social-progressive Left (Lewica) on the left, the liberal-progressive Civic Platform occupying the center-left, Polska 2050 and the PSL remaining in the center, the social-conservative PiS on the center-right, and the liberal-conservative nationalists and libertarians of The Confederation (Konfederacja) on the right.