POLAND – Further re the two feminist bills and some European Union responses

A correction: The 10 February news report should have said that the “Rescue Bill”, which aims to decriminalize abortion, is a project of the MPs from the Lewica Party. The draft bill Legal Abortion Without Compromise, which will be tabled as a citizens’ initiative, is a project of the Committee for Abortion without Compromise.

An update: after the 10 February newsletter was published, we learned that the investigation undertaken by the local prosecutor’s office, of records of legal abortions after 23 October 2020 in the hospital in eastern Poland, was stopped by the highest Prosecutor’s office (Prokuratura Krajowa) because there were no valid grounds for checking whether they were legal.

Here are further details of the main points in the draft bill “Legal Abortion Without Compromise”:

  • abortion to be available under the public health scheme until the 12th week without asking for a reason;
  • abortion to be available under the public health scheme after the 12th week in cases of fetal anomaly or when the pregnancy is the result of a criminal act;
  • strict deadlines as regards providing abortion services and sanctions against doctors for abusing the refusal of care on the ground of conscience;
  • duty on the directors of hospitals to hire sub-contractors in the event of refusal of care on the grounds of conscience by all doctors working in a facility;
  • decriminalisation of abortion: no criminal penalties for doctors and persons assisting in abortions in violation of the provisions of the restrictive anti-abortion laws;
  • simplification and acceleration of the “objection procedure” serving to challenge the refusal of service/a doctor’s opinion (24-hour deadline to reply);
  • antenatal screening test programme to cover specialist tests such as PAPP-A and ßhCG for all patients, which are done in the first trimester of pregnancy.

The Committee’s website will be launched soon. The text of the bill will be presented there along with information on signing the bill and helping to collect signatures.

European Union responses

On 9 February, several Members of the European Parliament condemned Poland’s almost total ban on abortion and called on the European Union (EU) to step up its fight against what they described as more backsliding on fundamental rights in Poland. The EU has no authority over abortion policies, and the European Parliament can’t force Warsaw to backtrack. However, several MEPs said they want to put additional pressure on the Polish government, which is already subject to four EU infringement procedures and an Article 7 procedure for passing reforms that undermine judicial independence.

Dutch MEP Samira Rafaela, of the liberal Renew Europe group, asked the European Commission: “What will you do? Will you just sit back and witness this serious infringement of women’s rights?” Terry Reintke, from the German Green Party, also urged the Commission to act, asking: “What else has to happen so that we finally see true commitment from the European Commission for European values and for the fundamental rights of European citizens?”

The Article 7 procedure, which is about violating the rule of law, can ultimately lead to the suspension of a country’s voting rights in the Council of the EU, where member governments are represented. But neither the case against Poland nor a separate Article 7 procedure against Hungary has made much progress in the Council, as they require unanimity for approval.

Meanwhile, some anti-abortion MEPs have criticised the European Parliament’s debate and labelled the concern over Poland’s abortion ban as an ideological and unfair interference in Poland’s domestic politics. Jadwiga Wiśniewska, an MEP of the Polish PiS, “lamented that the EU ‘wants to play politics with Poland’ and ‘inflame the situation’.” “You want women to go out into the streets during a pandemic,” she added.

SOURCES: Committee for Legal Abortion Without Compromise on Facebook; Federation for Women and Family Planning in CEE Bulletin on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, 2021;1(198) ; Politico, by Maïa de la Baume, 9 February 2021 ; E-mails from Federation for Women and Family Planning and from Civic Development Forum, 9-10 February 2021.

NOTE re Citizens’ Initiatives: Some 78 countries in all world regions have some sort of legal process for citizens to table new laws or seek to reform existing laws. See Influencing politics with signatures: Models and experiences of local citizens’ initiatives, by Pau Alarcón (UPF), Patricia García-Espín (UPO), Yanina Welp (UZH), Joan Font (IESA), Ajuntament de Barcelona, October 2018.