ON OCTOBER 22, A RULING from the Polish Constitutional Tribunal tightened preexisting abortion laws to exclude the use of the procedure in cases of severe birth defects and fetal abnormalities. With an estimated 98 percent of abortions within the country attributable to fetal abnormalities and defects, the Tribunal’s ruling drastically impacts abortion access throughout Poland. Tensions over abortion access have run high since 2016, when the country’s Law and Justice Party first put forth restrictive legislation—a move met with a massive show of resistance in the form of street protests The proposals were subsequently withdrawn by the government.
With its decision, the Tribunal ruled that the cause of 98 percent of Polish abortions was henceforth unconstitutional. Within 48 hours, Polish prochoice activists instituted a “women’s strike” that saw more than 400,000 women across 400 cities and towns in Poland brave a global pandemic to oppose the ruling. Pandemic restrictions instituted by the Tribunal and its slate of judges also have fueled Abortion Access activism in the face of the ruling. In recent months, accusations have been leveled by some in the public and press that accuse prochoice opponents in the government of attempting to use the COVID-19 crisis as a means of cover while pushing through a fundamental change in abortion access at a time when the public remains unable to peacefully assemble to demonstrate opposition. With activists rejecting as no more than a token measure what President Andrzej Duda put forth as a “legislative solution”—proposing termination of any pregnancy endangering the mother’s life would be made legal while fetal defects would remain illegal—tensions have yet to ease. A month from the onset of the protests, the size of the crowds across Poland has not slackened.
Despite both attacks from extremist right-wing groups and the use of force and crackdowns by police, at the time of publication protests appear to be gaining strength in the face of the Tribunal’s ruling. Solidarity protests in a number of cities throughout the world—Oslo, London, Chicago, Glasgow, Brussels—have already occurred, and more are expected as the fight for reproductive choice in Poland takes on revolutionary proportions.