Call for New Elections in Poland

One of the fundamental pillars of democracy is transparency of the law.

This past week, the Polish government effectively abdicated this responsibility when they refused to publish the recent Constitutional Tribunal’s decision to outlaw abortion in cases of fetal abnormality. The court’s decision was due to be published by Monday, November 2nd but has yet to be implemented, with officials citing protests as the cause for the delay. This unconstitutional move poses as equal a threat to the people of Poland as the abortion ban itself, since it suggests further nefarious control over the judicial courts by the Polish government.

Abortion laws prior to the ruling allowed legal access to abortion under three circumstances, including rape, endangering the life of the carrier, and fetal abnormalities. This third clause accounted for 98% of the country’s legal abortions, rendering abortion almost completely illegal.

Since the tribunal’s ruling on October 22, Poland has been mired in a state of unrest as hundreds of thousands have protested against the court’s decision. These protests reflect the consensus of Polish constituents that women’s bodily autonomy must be paramount. In having to backtrack aspects of their decision, the Polish government is exposing its dictatorial tendencies. By not publishing the new laws, the Polish President, Andrzej Duda, is further undermining the rule of law in Poland by overriding the ruling’s mandatory publication.

More recently, in light of the country’s intense response to the abortion ban, two bills have been proposed in attempts to capitulate the massive protests. The first, made by the Polish government, has proposed allowing abortion in the case of only fatal fetal impairment – a complete contradiction to the ruling set to be published – or creating a Council of Doctors that would determine which cases of fetal impairment could be aborted. In both cases, the government would still have complete control over the decisions of the pregnant individual. The second proposal comes from The Left party and seeks to fully decriminalize abortion while calling the Constitutional Tribunal an illegitimate judicial body.

What ultimately remains an important focal point is the ruling itself by the Constitutional Tribunal and the implicit control the government has over it. If the tribunal is not independent of the governing party, it is not a legitimate extension of a democratic justice system. Therefore, the ruling should be scrapped as the circumstances in which it came to pass should be illegal. Several Poles and European institutions have regarded the tribunal as illegitimate due to the amount of control the government currently has over it. If Poland regards the tribunal as illegitimate, the ruling should be considered as such as well, meaning doctors and lawyers alike should disregard its merits.

It is now crucial that oversight is bestowed upon future cases surrounding the ruling and any prosecution brought against organizers and protestors. The Polish government has already drawn criticism in recent years from the European Union and several international human rights watchdogs for passing legislation that grants further control over judicial processes. The inference made by the recent abortion ban suggests the government potentially circumvented parliament to impose this new legislation. These are authoritarian practices that act as a canary in the mine for what’s at stake for Poland’s democracy and cannot be tolerated. Therefore, cases brought on by the protests should ultimately be brought to the European Union, in an effort to uphold the rule of law in Poland.

Neither the Polish President’s pressure to delay the publication nor the carrot they have offered in the weeks since, does anything to solve the protest situation but instead makes it worse. The President is putting himself above all legal institutions with the decision to postpone the ban’s publication, an act that pushes Poland further towards dictatorship. Likewise, the bill they are proposing in response is a trojan horse to continue to control women’s bodies.

Protesters should not fall into either trap; it is meant to undermine their protests. Instead, they should continue to demand the resignation of the government and call for new elections so that legalized abortion can be passed into law. The ruling will likely come into publication in the nearing days and Poland should continue to fight against the unlawful means in which it came to pass.

In the meantime, Women on Web stands with the protestors and the people of Poland. We will continue our work and will provide free medical abortions to Polish individuals who need pregnancy terminations due to fetal indications. We will remain a safe option in the face of the Polish government’s abandonment of its constituents’ needs.