Poland’s highest court rules out abortions due to fetal malformations

WARSAW, POLAND – Poland’s highest court ruled on Thursday that a law allowing abortion of fetuses with birth defects was unconstitutional, filling a major loophole in the abortion laws of the predominantly Catholic country which are among the more stringent in Europe.

Two 13-member Constitutional Court judges did not support the majority decision. Activists deplored the move and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights wrote on Twitter that it was a “sad day for women’s rights”.

The decision came in response to a motion from right-wing lawmakers who argued that terminating a pregnancy due to fetal deformities – the most frequently cited reason for legal abortions in Poland – violates a constitutional provision which calls for to protect the life of every individual. .

The court argued that termination of pregnancy due to fetal deformities amounted to eugenics – a 19th-century notion of genetic selection that was later applied by the Nazi Germans in their pseudo-scientific experiments.

She agreed with the complainants that this was a form of prohibited discrimination when the decision regarding the life of an unborn child was conditioned by his or her health.

The contested law was introduced by the young post-communist Polish democracy in 1993 as a hard-won compromise between the influential Catholic Church and state authorities. It authorizes abortions when a pregnancy endangers the health or life of a woman, or results from rape or other illegal act, as well as in cases of birth defects. Only the last provision was challenged.

Even before Thursday’s decision, many Polish women requested abortions abroad.

Figures from the Ministry of Health show that 1,110 legal abortions took place in Poland in 2019, mainly due to fetal malformations.

In justifying its decision, the court declared “that there can be no protection of the dignity of an individual without protection of life”.

The verdict was announced by the presiding judge, Julia Przylebska, a right-wing government loyalist who focuses on family and Catholic values. The appointment of Przylebska to the court in 2015 was one of the government’s first steps towards taking control of the judiciary.

Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski, known for his strong conservative views, welcomed the verdict and expressed “great appreciation for the courage” of judges in defending human life “from the time of conception to (the time of) death natural “.

But opposition lawmakers went wild.

Civic Coalition leader Borys Budka said on Twitter that the government had used a “bogus” tribunal of its own to do something “simply inhumane.”

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic deplored the decision.

“Removing the basis of almost all legal abortions in Poland amounts to a ban and violates human rights,” she tweeted. “Today’s Constitutional Court ruling means clandestine / overseas abortions for those who can afford them and an even greater ordeal for everyone else. A sad day for .WomensRights.”

Former European President and former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk criticized the timing of this key decision during the difficult period of the pandemic.

Police guarded the court building as groups of pro-abortion and anti-abortion activists gathered outside as the verdict was announced. The groups were small, as anti-COVID-19 regulations prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people.

One of the judges who did not support the decision, Leon Kieres, argued that he was aware of the situation and condition of women when they were denied the right to decide on a pregnancy with malformations.

Polish lawmakers earlier this year envisioned legislation that would have imposed a near-total ban on abortion by banning the procedure in cases of fetal abnormalities, even when a fetus has no chance of survival. They ended up postponing a final vote on the proposal brought by a Catholic group. Similar efforts have also been put on hold in the past following nationwide mass protests that are currently no longer possible under anti-COVID-19 regulations.

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