Poland rules an almost total ban on abortion

Poland's top court ruled on Thursday (October 23) that abortion due to foetal defects was unconstitutional amounting to an almost total ban on the procedure.

The court decision erodes one of the last remaining legal grounds for pregnancy termination in the predominantly Catholic country, meaning the procedure will only be permissable in the case of rape, incest or a threat to the mother's life.

The decision was met with support from pro-life activist Kaja Godek:

"Today Poland is an example for Europe, it's an example for the world. Ladies and gentlemen, we are not stuck in the historical necessity which commands marching to the left and gradually increases the availability to murder people."

But women's rights advocates were dismayed by the decision and students and others in Warsaw protested in the night, chanting and marching through the streets.

"I am here because I think these are my fundamental rights to decide if I want to give birth to a child or not. PiS is taking away our civil rights and just like my friend said, the worst part of it is that in case of unwanted pregnancy, we can deal with it somehow because we have means, we have support, we have family here in Warsaw. But it's about girls in smaller villages who can even lose their lives."

The current party in power, the nationalist Law and Justice party or PiS, embraces conservative values,and curbing abortion has been a longstanding ambition for the party.

Opponents say the Constitutional Tribunal may have acted on the party's behalf.

While the Tribunal is nominally independent, most of its judges have been appointed by PiS, but PiS says they weren't trying to influence the rulings.

Many doctors in Poland already exercise their legal right to refuse to terminate pregnancies on religious grounds. Some say they are pressured into doing so by their superiors.

The decision on Thursday further distances Poland from most of Europe, as one of just two EU countries to severely restrict access to abortion.

Video Transcript

- Poland's top court ruled on Thursday that abortion due to fetal defects was unconstitutional, amounting to an almost total ban on the procedure. Thursday's decision erodes one of the last remaining legal grounds for pregnancy termination in the predominantly Catholic country. The procedure will now only be permissible in the case of rape, incest, or a threat to the mother's life. The decision was met with support from pro-life activist Kaja Godek.

KAJA GODEK: [SPEAKING POLISH]

INTERPRETER: Today, Poland is an example for Europe. It's an example for the world. Ladies and gentlemen, we are not stuck in the historical necessity, which commands marching to the left and gradually increases the availability to murder people.

- But women's rights activists were dismayed by the decision. And students and others in Warsaw protested in the night-- chanting and marching in the streets.

- [SPEAKING POLISH]

INTERPRETER: I'm here because I think these are my fundamental rights to decide if I want to give birth to a child or not. PiS is taking away our civil rights. The worst part of it is that in case of unwanted pregnancy, we can deal with it somehow because we have means, we have support, we have family here in Warsaw. But it's about girls in smaller villages who can even lose their lives.

- The current party in power, the nationalist Law and Justice party or PiS, embraces conservative values. And curbing abortion has been a longstanding ambition for the party. Opponents say the Constitutional Tribunal may have acted on the party's behalf. While the tribunal is nominally independent, most of his judges have been appointed by PiS. But PiS say they weren't trying to influence the rulings.

Many doctors in Poland already exercised their legal right to refuse to terminate pregnancies on religious grounds. Some say they are also pressured into doing so by their superiors. The decision on Thursday further distances Poland from most of Europe, as one of just two EU countries to severely restrict access to abortion.