20 October 2017

FEDERA: Updates on the ongoing battle around fundamental reproductive rights in Poland

On October 23, the “Save Women” Civic Committee has collected almost 500 000 signatures in support of a bill on women’s rights and conscious parenthood. The lower chamber has now three months to initiate debate on the draft legislation.

It is on the ruling party if it will be sent to further proceeding – as promised in the election campaign, or if it will be rejected – as the practice up to now shows. More information about the bill can be found here.

The record number of signatures – twice as many as in last year’s campaign - was collected since August by grassroots voluntary groups, in dozens of cities, towns and villages in Poland and abroad. The action was supported by many extra-parliamentary opposition parties and numerous NGOs, including the Federation for Women and Family Planning and the Great Coalition for Equality and Choice (the list can be found here). The official threshold – 100 000 signatures – was reached within the first month, which illustrates enormous engagement of the volunteers and outstanding support among citizens.  

While the Law and Justice party (PiS) likes to justify disturbing, often undemocratic, procedures with the will of the people, the planned restrictions to the anti-abortion law do not enjoy the majority support. According to the latest opinion polls, 40 percent of citizens are for the liberalization, another 40 percent are in favour of the status quo and only 11 percent would prefer stricter laws.   

At the same time, anti-choice groups collect signatures under their bill “#StopAbortion” that foresees abortion ban in case of foetal malformation. 

The ongoing battle around fundamental reproductive rights in Poland becomes even more fierce. Government’s attempts to criminalize abortions and make one of the toughest anti-abortion laws even stricter are expressed in its statement delivered to the Human Rights Committee.

Polish non-governmental organizations are deeply concerned about the official remarks to the General Comment No 36 on article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights concerning the right to life. The General Comments refers to various aspects related to the right to life – from abortion and euthanasia to suicide to capital punishment and genocide. It clarifies how States that have ratified the Covenant are supposed to protect this right. Only two paragraphs – out of 22 pages – pertain to abortion by imposing the duty to provide access to abortion in case of rape, incest and fetal impairment. The document also underlines that “any legal restriction on the ability of women to seek abortion must not, inter alia, jeopardize their life or subject them to physical or mental pain or suffering which violates article 7”.

Poland’s amendments rely on the assumption that human life begins at conception so as to restrict the right to abortion and deem euthanasia illegal.

Poland’s position clearly outlines that the only non-discriminatory exception limiting protection of human life is, according to the statement, “related NOT to a particular stage of the human life but to the imposition of the death penalty in situations emerging from a voluntarily committed, serious crime”.

One of the proposed changes refers to sexuality education as follows “States Parties should have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions”.

All those remarks suggest that the Polish government intends to reintroduce death penalty and to restrict abortion in case of both fetal impairment and criminal act as well as to make women accountable for abortion. Many Polish NGOs and citizens are highly alerted and hope that the international bodies will block any attempts to the idea of human-rights-based covenants.

To read the Polish position, visit the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website.

ASTRA Network and the Federation for Women and Family Planning have also participated in the consultations by signing the statement coordinated by the Center for Reproductive Rights. You can find more about this statement here

This article was written by FEDERA, the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning.