A controversial ruling that imposes a near total-ban on abortion in Poland will come into effect imminently, the government has announced, three months after the original ruling prompted the biggest protests in the country’s recent history.
The announcement led protesters to gather again in Warsaw and other cities on Wednesday evening. “We are inviting everyone, please, go out, be motivated, so we can walk together, make a mark,” said protest group leader Marta Lempart.
The ruling, handed down by the constitutional tribunal in October, found that terminating pregnancies due to severe foetal abnormalities is unconstitutional. Poland already has some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe, and most of the small number of legal abortions that take place in the country are cases of foetal defects.
Once the ruling goes into effect, abortion will only be permitted in cases of rape, incest or when the woman’s life is in danger.
More than 400,000 people protested in hundreds of towns and cities across the country as part of a “women’s strike” after the ruling. Theoretically, the rulings of the court should come into effect immediately, but there have been a number of cases where there have been long delays for apparently political reasons, and there was a sense that the government had been alarmed by the size of the protests and wanted to back away from the ruling.
“It would be good to take some time for dialogue and for finding a new position in this situation, which is difficult and stirs high emotions,” Michał Dworczyk, the head of the prime minister’s office, told Polish media in early November.
However, on Wednesday, the court’s justification for the ruling was published, and the government said it expected to publish the ruling itself on Wednesday too, which would officially make it law.
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has been accused of politicising the constitutional tribunal and using it to push through its ultra-conservative agenda on abortion.
The delay in publishing the ruling led to an uneasy situation over the past three months where doctors performing abortions were unsure from one day to the next whether the procedures would remain legal. Many Polish women take pills for medical abortions at home, while thousands of others are forced to travel abroad to seek abortion.
Five of the court’s 15 judges dissented from the majority opinion, although some of them only took issue with the justification, not with the substance of the ruling. The court’s ruling framed the issue as being about defending the life of an unborn child, and told Polish legislators they should use the words “child” and “mother” when talking about abortions rather than “foetus” and “pregnant woman”.
“No law-abiding government should respect this ruling,” said Borys Budka, the leader of Poland’s largest opposition party, the centrist Civic Platform, Reuters reported.
• This article was amended on 28 January 2021. An earlier version, describing the effect of the ruling, said that “abortion will only be permitted in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger”. This has been changed to refer to “when the woman’s life is in danger”.