October 22 marks one year since the Polish government banned abortion. The 22 October marks the ongoing assault on women’s rights and the rule of law
Fourteen human rights organisations said in a press release today that Poland’s authorities should end efforts to undermine reproductive rights and weaken protections from gender-based violence. They should commit to protecting women human rights defenders who have faced ongoing threats and attacks since the October 2020 decision. The organisations are Abortion Support Network, Amnesty International, Center for Reproductive Rights, CIVICUS, Federa, FOKUS, Human Rights Watch, International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion, International Federation for Human Rights, International Planned Parenthood Federation-European Network, MSI Reproductive Choices, Le Planning Familial, RFSU (Swedish Association for Sexual and Reproductive Rights), and Strajk Kobiet (Women’s Strike).
Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, whose independence and legitimacy are widely acknowledged as politically compromised ruled on 22 October 2020 that abortion on grounds of “severe and irreversible fetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the fetus’ life” was unconstitutional. This was after the parliament had failed to adopt legislation to the same end. The ruling came into force on 27 January 2021. This eliminated one of the few legal grounds for abortion left under Poland’s highly restrictive law. It came as the Covid-19 pandemic made travel to other countries for health care prohibitively difficult and costly. And it spurred the country’s largest public protests in decades, led by women human rights defenders.
In September 2021, a new anti-abortion civic initiative “Stop Abortion” bill was sent to parliament that would consider abortion at any stage a homicide and would bring criminal penalties against women who have abortions, and anyone who assists them, with punishments of up to 25 years in prison….
Women’s rights organizations and members of parliament of the opposition Lewica party are collecting signatures for another civic initiative, Legal Abortion Without Compromise which would permit abortion without restriction as to reason up to the 12th week of pregnancy and after 12 weeks in cases of risk to mental or physical health, a non-viable pregnancy, or pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.
In July, the European Court of Human Rights announced that it will address complaints from Polish women who may be victims of violations of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms due to the Constitutional Tribunal’s 2020 abortion ruling. However, Poland’s government has failed to effectively implement previous judgments concerning access to lawful abortion.
The anniversary of the anti-abortion ruling comes amid increasing tensions between Poland’s government and the European Union after the Constitutional Tribunal rejected the binding nature of EU law on 7 October 2021. This followed a series of EU Court of Justice rulings that the Polish government weakening of judicial independence breached EU law. The European Commission said it “will not hesitate to make use of its powers” under EU treaties to ensure application of EU law and protect of people’s rights….
The European Commission and EU member states should act to protect and support women’s rights defenders and organizations in Poland. EU Member States should actively support people in Poland seeking access to abortion.
“Despite fear and repercussions, people in Poland are fighting every day to protect rights that everyone in the EU should be able to exercise freely, including access to safe abortion,” said Hillary Margolis, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Women’s rights are on a precipice in Poland, and unless the European Commission and Council act to defend democratic values, more and more women and girls will suffer the consequences.”
Abortion Without Borders has helped more than 34,000 people in Poland access abortions
A year ago – on 22 October 2020 – a Polish Constitutional Court decided that the provision of abortion in case of foetal malformation was unconstitutional. While the decision didn’t come into force until 27 January 2021, the change happened immediately. The next day, despite the still-valid provision of abortion under Poland’s abortion act, the first four people refused abortion in Polish hospitals called Abortion Without Borders for help.
Since 22 October 2020, the six Abortion Without Borders member groups have helped 34,000 people from Poland to access abortion:
- 1,075 people were helped to navigate a second trimester abortion at a clinic outside Poland by one of the six member groups of the Abortion Without Borders initiative. 523 of the 1,075 people disclosed information about the presence of a foetal abnormality.
- The total amount of funding given by Abortion Without Borders is more than 700,000 PLN/ £129,000/ €153,000.
- Over 8,457 people called the Abortion Without Borders hotline seeking information and access to abortion and 2,758 people wrote e-mails asking for help with abortion. 274 people were looking for information about how to get the morning-after pill and 407 needed counselling after an abortion.
- Ciocia (Auntie) Basia in Germany helped 378 people access abortion. 243 terminated their pregnancies by travelling to Berlin, 33 were referred to Ciocia Wienia in Vienna and the remaining 102 were referred to other German cities and had abortions with the help of other Ciocia groups.
- Abortion Network Amsterdam (ANA), Netherlands, helped 245 people to access second trimester abortions at a cost of more than 25,000 zloty (£4,608/€5,465). This included the cost of the procedure, stay and travel arrangements in many cases, also mandatory Covid-19 tests.
- The Abortion Support Network in England has helped at least 460 people to access second trimester abortion in England, the Netherlands or elsewhere in Europe. The financial support given by ASN was 670,000 zloty (£123,513/€146,450) for abortions, travel and accommodation costs, Covid-19 tests and more.
- The remaining people who needed to travel abroad for second trimester abortions were helped by more than one organization within Abortion Without Borders and travelled to Belgium, Spain, France and the Czech Republic for abortion.
- Women Help Women, an international organization that facilitates postal access to abortion pills, has responded to over 80,000 messages from Poland. In the last 12 months over 18,000 people in Poland benefited from the help of Women Help Women.
- Over 2,200 new people have registered on the online forum of Kobiety w Sieci (Women on the Net). Since 22 October 2020, 434 have received support for having an abortion with pills, of whom 45 were in the second trimester of pregnancy and decided to take pills with the help of Kobiety w Sieci because they could not or did not wish to go to a clinic abroad.
- The Abortion Dream Team (ADT) has helped more than 3,400 people have abortions with pills in the past 12 months. Of those 3,400, 77 were in their second trimester of pregnancy – unable/unwilling to travel to a clinic abroad for the procedure, they chose to take the pills with ADT assistance. 967 others sought access to the morning-after pill. 361 contacted ADT’s legal hotline.
- In the two clinics in Holland that most often provide second trimester abortions, 3-6 people from Poland terminate their pregnancies every day. Many of them arrange the treatment on their own without support.
Taking into account Polish government statistics of how many abortions were previously carried out in Polish hospitals (prior to 22 October 2020), we conclude that Abortion Without Borders has taken over almost all the abortions previously provided by the Polish state. The responsibility for second trimester abortions now rests on the shoulders of feminist organisations and informal groups and depends on money raised from donations.
If you are in Poland and need an abortion you can call Abortion Without Borders +48 22 29 22 597 (seven days a week, 8 am–8 pm), email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit abortionabezgranic.pl.