POLAND – Committee on Legal Abortion Without Compromises plans to table two bills in parliament: “We are not giving up!”

At this stage, both bills are in draft form and being worked on:

  • The first bill was first drafted in October 2020 and is called a “rescue bill”. It is the proposal of eight women MPs from the left wing party Lewica. Its aim is to amend the Criminal Code in the short term, to rescue Polish women from the current total ban on abortion. The standard procedure for tabling legislation applies to this draft bill. At this point, it has not yet formally been put on the agenda of the Sejm.
  • The second bill is entitled: “Legal abortion without compromise”. This bill will be presented as a “civic legislative initiative”. Its aim is to liberalise access to abortion in the longer term. The process for tabling such a bill requires the collection of an initial 1,000 signatures to put it on the parliamentary agenda, and then 100,000 signatures supporting it, so as to force the parliament to debate and vote on it.

As the law on abortion in the Polish Criminal Code currently stands, Article 152 penalises in Clause §1 those who carry out an abortion and in Clause §2 those who help or incite to abortion – with up to three years in prison. Clause §3 stipulates that if these acts are committed after the fetus is capable of survival outside the body of the woman, the penalty is between six months and eight years of imprisonment.

The main point of the “rescue bill” is to amend Article 152 of the Criminal Code, as follows:

  • There is no crime if the pregnancy is terminated up to the 12th week. After 12 weeks, the penalty applies but is limited to a fine, limitation of liberty or deprivation of liberty for a maximum of one year.
  • No punishment for the person who carries out an abortion if the woman has had an antenatal test showing a high probability of severe and irreversible fetal defect or an incurable condition that threatens the fetus’ life.
  • The penalty for assisting or inciting an abortion is removed.

The group know this bill is not perfect, but it is much better than what exists now, especially as it would take the burden off the health professionals who provide abortions. It is also important that assistance in providing abortion would be deleted completely from the criminal code.

Hence, the rescue bill needs to be debated as soon as possible. For this to happen, it needs to be discussed more widely and Lewica needs to get MPs from other political parties to support it when it is debated. It is possible that members of the governing Law and Justice Party (PiS) who are against the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling on abortion could support it.

This is especially important in light of the following news:

  • Because the fundamentalist NGO Pro Prawo do Życia (ProLife Foundation) believe that the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling was law as soon as it was approved, even before it was published, the Prosecutor is investigating all cases of abortion carried out from 23 October (the day after the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling) in one of the hospitals in the town of Białystok in the eastern part of Poland, to determine whether they were legal. He has described this as urgent (Gazeta Prawna, 8 February 2021; Wiadomosci.com, 8 February 2021), even though it is well known that the ruling only became law when it was published;
  • The Federation for Women & Family Planning are receiving more and more calls from women who had ordered medical abortion pills for self-managed abortion in the past, who have been summoned to testify in a police station and are asking for advice on what to do (Wysokieobcasy.pl, 6 February 2021).

It is not hard to imagine the impact that such investigations may have on doctors and others who assist in abortion services all over Poland. Ordo Iuris, an extreme anti-choice group founded in Poland in 2018, are enough – with their efforts to notify alleged “crimes” being committed related to pregnancy and abortion, which have already created a chilling effect on those providing access to legal abortions.

The process for tabling the civic initiative bill “Legal abortion without compromise”, is as follows:

  • It can be registered with the Legislative Committee after the collection of 1,000 signatures. The Committee on Legal Abortion is now at the stage of collecting 1,000 signatures.
  • Once it has been registered, at least 100,000 signatures have to be collected, normally within a three-month time frame. In the Covid-19 context, the time frame for this process can be longer. Only when the pandemic is formally over will the three-month period start to be counted. However, the group needs to double check and confirm that this is the correct interpretation of the Covid-19 emergency laws.
  • When the 100,000 signatures are attached, the draft bill will be presented to the Marshall of the Sejm with a request to proceed with it. The Marshall may ask for verification of the legitimacy of the placing of the signatures.
  • The Marshall of the Sejm formally has three months to present the bill on the agenda of the Sejm for a first reading. If the term of office of the Sejm comes to an end, the newly elected Sejm must proceed with the draft bill. However, although this is what the law says, very often the Sejm waits longer than this to proceed with such a bill.

SOURCES: Federation for Women & Family Planning Civic Bill Initiative. PHOTOS: rmf24.pl, 8 February 2021. E-mail reports from two advocates, 9 February 2021. News reports quoted above. The webpage of the Federation for Women & Family Planning will be updated as these actions proceed.