Polish tribunal rules abortions in the case of foetal abnormalities are unconstitutional in landmark decision

Matthew Day
·2-min read
Women protest against imposing further restrictions on abortion law in Poland - Cezary Aszkielowicz/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS 
Women protest against imposing further restrictions on abortion law in Poland - Cezary Aszkielowicz/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS

Poland could introduce a near-total ban on abortion after the country’s top court ruled that terminations due to birth defects, permitted under the current law, are unconstitutional.

The country’s Constitutional Tribunal found that the 1993 law that allowed terminations in cases of severe foetal impairment, which account for 98 per cent of abortions, contravened sections of the Polish constitution protecting the “right to life”.

Under Polish law the ruling could be overturned by a two-thirds vote in parliament, but with the country’s lower house dominated by Law and Justice, the socially conservative ruling party, and its allies, this is unlikely. 

The ruling comes despite opinion polls showing that Poles favour the status quo, and the strong opposition from human rights groups, women’s groups and political parties.

Law and Justice has sought to portray itself as a defender of conservative Catholic values, and in 2016 backed an attempt to tighten the abortion law through parliamentary legislation.

Pro-choice activists protest in Krakow - Omar Marques/Getty Images
Pro-choice activists protest in Krakow - Omar Marques/Getty Images

This attempt was met with widespread opposition at the time, when thousands of women took to the streets in mass protests across Poland that inflicted a rare defeat on the government.

This time, abortion opponents went to the Constitutional Tribunal, with 119 conservative MPs submitting last year an application arguing the 1993 law failed to uphold the constitution.

Supporters of the application were quick to welcome the tribunal’s ruling. Artur Dziambor, a member of the far-right Confederation party, saying “life has won”.

Critics have condemned the ruling. 

Katarzyna Kotula, an MP from Lewica, a Left-wing party, said the ruling reduced women to the role “of silent incubators who have no control over their health, bodies and life”.

They also expressed suspicions that the tribunal reflected the influence of Law and Justice. The Polish government has faced frequent accusations that it is intent on undermining the independence of legal bodies, such as the tribunal.

“The ‘Law and Justice tribunal’ has banned abortion in Poland. Women in Poland will be tortured and children will die in agony,” said Marcelin Zawisza, a Lewica MP. end