POLAND / BELGIUM – First official act of solidarity with Polish women from a European government

On 28 September 2021, the Belgian Minister of Health and Junior Minister for Gender Equality, Equal Opportunities and Diversity announced that the government would provide €10,000 funding to Abortion Without Borders to help to fund abortions for Polish women who need to travel outside Poland to access an abortion. Belgium is the first government to do this.

Abortion in Poland is restricted even in cases of fatal fetal abnormality; in October 2020, the Polish government ruled that 98% of the 1,000-2,000 legal abortions taking place in the country were ‘unconstitutional’. In the six months following the ruling, Abortion Without Borders was contacted by 17,000 people seeking help, and continues to receive around 800 calls per month.

In their announcement of the donation, the Belgian government highlighted the fact that access to abortion care is a health issue that is effectively being outsourced by Poland to other countries. They noted, in contrast, that civil society is intervening to support women who need to travel to access abortions, and the Polish state is failing to protect the health of its citizens.

Sarah Schlitz, the Belgian junior Minister for Gender Equality, said: Access to abortion is a fundamental right that must be ensured by every democratic state. It allows women to own their own bodies, protect their health, and not be forced to give up life opportunities. When a state fails to protect its citizens, civil society must step in. As the Polish government tacitly accepts that Polish women go abroad to access the services they should be entitled to at home, access to abortion becomes even more of a financial issue. It is for this reason that with my colleague Frank Vandenbroucke, Minister of Health, we have taken the decision to send a strong signal by supporting… Polish women financially and logistically who wish to have an abortion in another European country. The grant we are providing will cover the costs of having an abortion in another European country for women who cannot afford it.”

The announcement comes just after days after a Polish anti-choice group began to push for criminalisation of anyone who supports others to access an abortion. This aims to criminalise people like those in the Abortion Dream Team, based in Poland, who are helping others get an abortion. The Dream Team are not diminishing their actions, however.

Another new, very harsh anti-abortion bill being prepared in the Sejm (Parliament) seeks to ban all abortions. It is not registered yet, and it is not a governmental bill. It is similar to the previous full criminalisation bill that was tabled in the Parliament. This new bill claims there is never any danger to the health or life of woman from pregnancy. It criminalises doctors, nurses, taxi drivers, information websites, and anyone else helping a woman, as well as the woman herself. It equates abortion with murder and carries a punishment of up to life imprisonment (or 25 years) if done knowingly. It could also be applied to miscarriages if the woman is seen to not “be careful enough while pregnant”. Some prominent activists think that they will not obtain a majority for this bill, even within the ruling party, and that there will be resistance.

SOURCES: Abortion Support Network press release, 28 September 2021 ; Abortion Without Borders: https://www.asn.org.uk/about-abortion-without-borders or www.abortion.eu