On the 23rd of June, within the fourth package of “pandemic-related measures”, the Polish President amended the Criminal Penal Code to put pressure on judges to enforce the most severe punishment in Poland’s abortion law. These provisions include prison sentences of up to 8 years for those that perform abortions outside the limits of Poland’s already highly restrictive law. The law itself has not been changed, but the amendment restricts the space for interpretation formerly granted to judges and risks paving the way to a more rigid interpretation of abortion law.
Women's safety is not however the only target: changes to the Criminal Code also include penalties for offending the President, petty thefts and involuntary medical mistakes.
With the Presidential election coming up this weekend in Poland, the ruling party’s actions would suggest it is seeking to cement its power and rally its base by passing this suite of changes, and further erode the rule of law, human rights protection and democracy.
In Poland, the legislation on abortion care is already amongst the most restrictive in Europe. Abortion is only lawful to safeguard the life or health of women, in situations of severe fetal anomaly or where the pregnancy results from rape or incest. Attacks to restrict rights further have been constant, with ultra-right groups influencing the PiS agenda. In May, the Polish Parliament already proposed to remove the legal obligation for medical facilities to refer patients to another facility if they refuse to provide abortion care based on personal beliefs, with potentially dramatic consequences for women, who may be unable to access care. The new provision aims to ensure the most restrictive and severe interpretation of the law opening the way to heavy prosecution and sentencing. Doctors who perform abortions have already faced increased prosecution for many years and women’s community support groups have become the target of attacks in the last two years.
“These changes in law are nothing more than a trojan horse hidden in an anti-COVID-19 package. It’s yet another example of a government exploiting the pandemic to consolidate its authoritarian power, to weaken democracy and the rule of law, and to trample on human rights. They signal the continuation of the war on reproductive freedom and women’s rights. President Andrzej Duda has a track record of trying to swing votes by criticizing the EU stand on the Istanbul Convention which combats violence against women, relentless efforts to completely ban abortion, hatred campaigns against the LGBTI+ community and dismissing the EU consensus on gender equality and the protection of minorities from discrimination. The list goes on and it will worsen if he gets reelected” said Irene Donadio, Senior Adviser at IPPF EN.
Polish civic groups – led by the Polish Women’s Strike coalition - are gathering outside the Presidential Palace in Warsaw in order to condemn these retrograde laws and ask for the protection of all people from coercion and ill-treatment. A performance and a silent protest respecting social distancing is being organized today at 18.00 despite the highly criticized limitations on assembly imposed by the Government as a way to fight the pandemic and tighten control over dissident voices.
IPPF stands with the Polish Women’s Strike who continues to fight for their freedoms and EU values, and with the international community that continues to condemn the Polish ruling party's incursions on the rule of law and the safety and freedom of women.
For more information or an interview please contact:
Irene Donadio, Senior Adviser at IPPF EN, firstname.lastname@example.org, +32 491 17 19 390