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Poland: Attacks on Women's Reproductive Rights In Poland by Catholic Church continue - by Gavin Rae

Polish PM Beata Maria Szydło
As the crisis around changes implemented to Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal continues, the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) has opened up a new conflict through an attack on the reproductive rights of women. This is significant as it would not only mean making abortion completely illegal in Poland, but also shows how the country is moving further away from being a democratic, secular state.

The hierarchy of the Polish Catholic Church is directly intervening in a major political issue and dictating how the government should act. This has caused an immediate reaction amongst those opposed to the tightening of the abortion law, with thousands already taking to the streets in protest.

Poland already has one of the most restrictive and repressive abortion laws in Europe.  Abortion was made illegal in 1993, in a move that was ludicrously described as a ‘compromise’. It banned abortion in all but three circumstances: where there is a high probability of severe and irreversible damage to the foetus or where it will have an incurable life-threatening disease; where a pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or health; or where the pregnancy is the result of a criminal act.

This draconian abortion law has inevitably resulted in huge numbers of Polish women either being forced to undergo illegal abortions in Poland or travel abroad to have their pregnancies terminated. It is obviously the least well off women – unable to travel abroad – who most often have to have illegal ‘backstreet’ abortions in Poland. It is estimated that around 150,000 illegal abortions take place in the country each year, which carry significant health risks.

The fact that women whose lives are at risk or have become pregnant due to rape would now no longer be able to have a legal and safe abortion, or that a woman could be prosecuted for having had a miscarriage that is deemed to be her fault, highlights the barbarity of the current proposal to completely outlaw abortion.

The second alarming factor in this situation is that the proposal has come directly from the top of the Catholic Church that is now directing government policy on this crucial issue. The Presidium of the Polish Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued a statement last week that Poland should not halt at the present ‘compromise’ on abortion, but move towards a total ban. This statement was then read out in churches throughout Poland on Sunday.

This has concurred with an action being run by the ‘Stop Abortion’ campaign to collect signatures in order to put forward a citizens’ bill to parliament to completely outlaw abortion in the country.

The Prime Minister, Beata Szydło, has said that she personally supports a complete ban on abortion. Even more disturbingly, the leader of PiS (and de facto the most powerful politician in Poland) has stated that as a Catholic he has to support the decisions of the Bishops, and that although his parliamentary group would have a free vote he was sure that the vast majority would vote for the bill.

Although support for the legalisation of abortion has waned during the past two decades, a large majority of Polish society is against it being completely banned (80% when it threatens the life of the mother, 73% when the pregnancy is the result of rape; 53% when the child would be born ill or handicapped).

However, the Polish government is now clothing itself in a cape of religious morality that cannot be questioned. As they are believers in the Catholic faith, they must simply do as the Church dictates. This moves Poland further away from a form of government based upon the opinions of the majority, and towards one that is run according to the ideology and decisions of a religious institution.

The present Polish government has been one of the most hostile to refugees and, after the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, it quickly announced that it would no longer take the quota of refugees that it had agreed previously with the EU.

Therefore, whilst the conservative right in Poland is now talking about the ‘rights of children’ it is turning a blind eye to those refugee children being washed up on the shores of southern Europe, or the estimated 10,000 refugee children that have gone missing in Europe since the crisis began. 

The Polish Government of Beata Maria Szydło is acting less and less democratic and more and more hypocritical since they came into power last year.

Read more: Attacks on Women's Reproductive Rights In Poland

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