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Poland Protesters Tussle with Police After Abortion Ruling

Image by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlba
Woman holding "fuck your abortion ban" banner. Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

Level: Intermediate


Originally published on 23 October 2020

Poland's constitutional court has ruled that abortions due to birth defects, which make up a majority of all legal terminations in Poland, are unconstitutional.

The country’s laws on abortion were some of the strictest in Europe even before this ruling.

Abortion will still be allowed if the mother’s life is at risk and if the pregnancy is a result of rape.

The decision means abortion is unconstitutional in cases where the mother risks giving birth to a seriously ill child or one that is unlikely to survive.

Hours after the ruling, hundreds of protesters marched in front of the court with signs saying “You have blood on your gowns” and “Shame”.

The demonstrators then walked to the offices of the PiS party - the party currently in power - and to the house of party leader and deputy prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is the driving force behind the government's policies. Protesters were calling for the government to step down.

Officers briefly tussled with some people, took their banners and sprayed pepper gas into the crowd.

PiS MPs issued the legal challenge last year against a 1993 law, which allows abortion in cases of severe foetal disabilities. A majority of judges in court for Thursday’s ruling were nominated by the PiS party.

A citizen’s bill, backed by many in PiS, which tried to make abortion legislation tougher in the Catholic country in 2016, was scrapped soon after when large protests broke out.

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic called it “a sad day” for women's rights.

“Throwing in the topic of abortion and holding a pseudo-tribunal on it in the middle of a pandemic is more than cynicism. This is political evil,” said former Polish PM and President of the European Parliament Donald Tusk.

Human rights groups have also spoken out against the ruling.

“The result will be agonising for women and their families, forcing some 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,” said Irene Donadio from NGO International Planned Parenthood Federation.

The European Commission has expressed serious concerns regarding breaches of the rule of law in Poland and has proposed linking funding for member states to respect for this value.

Adapted from euronews

New vocabulary:

(where applicable, click on the links to see clip art images of the words. You can use these images to make vocabulary cards)

  • birth defects – physical problems with a body part or process that is found at birth

  • terminations – a synonym for abortion (ending a pregnancy)

  • unconstitutional – not allowed by the constitution (= set of rules for government) of a country

  • ruling – a legal decision

  • at risk – there is a chance that something bad will happen to someone

  • gowns – long, loose pieces of clothing that judges often wear

  • driving force – something that has the power to make things happen

  • step down – to give up a job or position

  • tussled – fought, either verbally or physically (but only using arms or body)

  • foetal disabilities  signs that the foetus may not be able to survive outside of the mother's body

  • scrapped – didn't continue with a system or plan

  • pseudo-tribunal – a tribunal that is not really a tribunal. Fake/not real (see Wiki for more on "pseudo" as a prefix)

  • agonising – causing a lot of pain, either mentally or physically

  • against their will – without their consent/permission

  • fatal – causes death

  • severe foetal impairment – signs that the foetus may not be able to survive outside of the mother's body

  • underground abortions – abortions that happen illegally, often without the help of a medical professional



How do you think this ruling will affect women in Poland?

What do you think can be done to pressure the government to protect women in Poland better?

Poland vocab
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