Alert for Poland
Updated March 2021
On 22 October 2020, Poland’s illegally appointed Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the country’s abortion law is unconstitutional, specifically striking down the possibility for women to access abortion care on the ground of severe foetal impairment.
This judgment removes the only ground on which Polish women have still been able to access abortion care in practice, when they needed it for therapeutic reasons. The result is agonising for women and their families, forcing most to continue through pregnancies against their will, including in cases of fatal or severe foetal impairment, while others will have no choice but to travel abroad to seek care if they have the financial means to do so, or to seek underground abortions which are now even less available due to pressure from the government.
The collapse of the Rule of Law
The cruel, regressive move to ban abortion in almost all circumstances has been made possible by the Polish government coalition's deliberate erosion of the rule of law and democratic values in the country, and its placement of politically appointed judges into a body that, when carrying out its legitimate duty, is responsible for upholding the rule of law.
Almost all judges sitting on the Constitutional Tribunal now have strong links with the ruling coalition and were nominated purely for political purposes, while legitimate Constitutional judges were not sworn in.
We ask political decision makers to urgently make use of all the legal and political tools at their disposal to act, including: the new Rule of Law Cycle, the recommendations under the Rule of Law Framework; the Article 7 proceedings; consider launching an infringement procedure on the Constitutional Tribunal, as called for by the European Parliament; and implement and trigger the rule of law conditionality mechanism for the future EU budget as soon as possible.
Serious breaches of rule of law in Poland pave way for extensive abuse of human rights
In the streets
Massive protests were prompted by the decision of the Constitutional Tribunal to impose a near ban on abortion. The protests have drawn support from a wide variety of people, including miners, taxi drivers, farmers and trade unions.
Peaceful protesters were met with excessive force with authorities using tear gas, pepper spray and physical assault.
We urge the Polish government to end the intimidation, prosecution and smearing campaigns against peaceful protesters. We also call on EU leaders to condemn attacks and violence perpetrated by the authorities and non-state actors.
Women’s rights defenders, you will never walk alone
Women’s rights defenders have faced violence from law enforcement and far-right groups, as well as smear campaigns in state-controlled media and excessive criminal charges, which were orchestrated and encouraged by the government.
We ask the EU to protect and support women’s human rights defenders and organisations, including financially, in Poland and in every EU Member State.
Efforts to legalise domestic violence
The Polish Minister for Social Policies, Labour and Family drafted an official government bill that legalises the first act of domestic violence, categorizing it as illegal if it happens more than once. This bill would dismantle the Polish ‘blue card’ system which ensures the obligation of any institution (police, social workers, teachers, NGOs etc) to flag cases of domestic violence. The bill would also lift the obligation of the state to provide a helpline for survivors of domestic violence.
The only thing that stands in the way of adopting this bill is the Istanbul Convention on preventing violence against women. The Polish government stated it wants to withdraw from the Convention. Currently, the withdrawal is up for debate in the Parliament, and the Istanbul Convention is under review by the illegitimate Constitutional Court.
In the press
One year after Poland's anti-abortion ruling, EU urged to act to uphold women's rights (October 2021)
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From our partners
Poland added to the CIVICUS Monitor’s international human rights Watchlist.
Check out their civic space update on attacks on activists.
Human Rights Watch covers European Parliament hearing on Poland.
Amnesty International reports on protests in Poland.