POLAND – Resolution of the European Parliament of 11 November 2021 on the first anniversary of the de facto abortion ban in Poland 

This is a condensed version of the resolution: 

The European Parliament, having regard to the Treaty on European Union; European Convention on Human Rights; case law of the European Court of Human Rights; Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union; Constitution of the Republic of Poland; United Nations international pact on economic, social and cultural rights and international pact on civil and political rights; United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; Beijing Platform for Action; International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) 1994,and the Nairobi summit on ICPD + 25, as well as its commitments to the “three zeros” goal of reducing unmet needs for family planning information and services, preventable maternal deaths, and sexual and gender-based violence to zero. harmful to women and girls; United Nations Sustainable Development Goals; 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Europe – leaving no one behind; – United Nations Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the “Istanbul Convention”); the thematic document of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights entitled “Women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in Europe; UNESCO international guidelines on sexuality education… and others…

– [Having regard to its previous resolutions on Poland and a long list of resolutions expressing concern about a decline in the human rights of women in the European Union, from 2017 through 2021]  

A. whereas the Union is founded on the values ​​of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, justice, the rule of law, respect for human rights and non- discrimination, in accordance with Article 2 of the EU Treaty; whereas all Member States have accepted obligations and duties, under international law and EU treaties, which require them to respect, guarantee and fulfill fundamental rights;

B. whereas, in accordance with the Charter, the ECHR and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, as well as the case law of the United Nations treaty monitoring bodies, reproductive health and rights and sexual are linked to multiple human rights, such as the right to life, the right of access to health care, the right to protection against inhuman or degrading treatment, as well as respect for physical integrity, privacy and personal autonomy; whereas these human rights are also enshrined in the Polish constitution; whereas Member States are legally bound to respect and protect human rights in accordance with their constitutions, the Union Treaties and the Charter, as well as international law;

C. whereas delaying and denying access to abortion constitutes a form of gender-based violence; whereas access to care in the event of abortion is essential for social and economic equality; that several human rights organizations (11) have asserted that the denial of a safe abortion can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and that unsafe abortions which result in death in the context of abortion bans should be seen as “arbitrary gender-based executions, of which women are the only victims, due to discrimination enshrined in law”;

D. whereas a year ago, on 22 October 2020, the illegitimate Polish Constitutional Court ruled unconstitutional the provision of the 1993 law on family planning, protection of the fetus and conditions for termination of pregnancy which allowed an abortion when a prenatal examination or other medical considerations showed a high probability of a serious and irreversible malformation of the fetus or of an incurable disease which endangered the life of the latter; whereas this decision resulted in a de facto ban on abortion, given that the vast majority of legal abortions performed in Poland were based on the aforementioned ground;

E. whereas the erosion of the rule of law in Poland has resulted in violations of human rights, including reproductive and sexual health and rights; that the de facto ban on abortion in Poland constitutes a flagrant violation of the rule of law and fundamental rights and limits the realization of reproductive and sexual health rights in Poland, after the numerous violations of the state law of recent years;

F. whereas the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has repeatedly expressed concerns that Poland has not executed judgments of the European Court of Human Rights for more than thirteen years in several cases (12) in which the Court found that Poland had violated human rights due to its inability to guarantee access to legal abortion in practice;

G. whereas previous attempts to restrict sexual and reproductive health were initially halted in 2016, 2018 and 2020 due to massive opposition from Polish citizens which manifested itself during the so-called “Black Friday” marches, which received broad support from Members of the European Parliament from different political groups;

H. whereas in response to the ruling further restricting access to abortion, unprecedented protests have once again taken place across Poland, including in small towns and villages, and around the whole world, and that still others were organized in October 2021 in more than twenty cities of Poland on the occasion of the first anniversary of the de facto ban on abortion; that these protests were originally organized to oppose this serious restriction which undermines the fundamental rights of Polish women in matters of reproductive and sexual health and rights, but have turned into protests against other violations of the rule of law and against the government responsible for these violations;

I. whereas, despite these unprecedented protests, the decision of the Constitutional Court was officially published on January 27, 2021 and that, as a result, the de facto ban on abortion has become a reality for women in Poland, resulting in an increase in the number of unsafe abortions and forcing women to travel abroad for an abortion, which undermines women’s health and rights, their autonomy and their sexual and bodily integrity, and puts their lives in danger;

J. whereas a 30-year-old pregnant woman named Izabela died of septic shock on September 22, 2021 because her doctors did not perform a life-saving abortion, preferring to wait for the fetus to die due to restrictions on legal abortions and the chilling effect of these restrictions on doctors in Poland; whereas the death of this young woman has sparked protests in several Polish cities and on social media under the slogan “Not one more”;

K. whereas, according to media reports, another woman named Anna, who was in her fifth month of pregnancy, died of septic shock on June 14, 2021 after doctors forced her to deliver a baby stillborn despite suspected sepsis;

L. whereas, since the adoption of the relevant decision, many Polish women have been forced to seek help through initiatives such as Abortion Without Borders and organizations established in other Member States in order to have access to their reproductive and sexual health rights, in particular to abortion services; that the organization of abortion procedures rests on the shoulders of women’s rights organizations and informal groups, and depends on money raised through donations;

M. whereas in the last 12 months, groups of the Abortion Without Borders initiative have helped 34,000 people (13) from Poland to access abortion; whereas these figures represent only a fraction of the total number of Polish women needing assistance to access abortion;

N. whereas due to legal restrictions and stigma, there is a lack of reliable data on the incidence of abortion in many Member States, as well as on the context in which abortions are performed; whereas in order to understand reproductive and sexual health and rights needs, and to guarantee women’s rights, it is essential that all Member States provide accurate, regularly updated and anonymous data on abortion;

O. whereas, according to data collected by the Federation for Women and Family Planning, in the last ten months, only 300 women have accessed abortion services in Polish hospitals due to a threat to their life and health; that the decision rendered by the Constitutional Court further stigmatizes reproductive and sexual health and rights and disproportionately affects women and pregnant women who do not have the financial means to finance a safe abortion or an abortion abroad, as well as those who do not have access to information technologies;

P. whereas only a few hospitals in Poland perform abortions for fear of prosecution; whereas women often refrain from using their services for fear of cumbersome and deliberately delayed procedures and dismissals; that women who suffer from serious mental health problems and who do not receive any institutional support from the state to access legal abortion services in Poland are increasingly trying to assert their right to legal abortion for mental health reasons; that in July 2021, the European Court of Human Rights announced its intention to deal with complaints from Polish women concerning violations of their rights guaranteed by the ECHR (14) ;

Q. whereas, according to the European Atlas of Contraception 2020 (15) , even before the Court’s decision, Poland had one of the most restrictive policies in terms of access to contraceptives, family planning, psychological assistance and the provision of information online; whereas Poland is one of the few countries to require a prescription for emergency contraception, which doctors often refuse to issue because of their personal beliefs;

R. whereas, on the basis of the Polish Criminal Code, anyone who terminates the pregnancy of another person, or helps or encourages a pregnant person to terminate their pregnancy in violation of the provisions of the law, incurs criminal liability, including a term of imprisonment; that due to existing legal provisions, social stigma, fear and pressure from their peers and medical authorities, Polish doctors prefer not to be involved in abortion procedures, which was already the case even when abortion was still legal; that in addition to the conscience clause, to which they frequently resort, doctors put in place additional non-regulatory obstacles, such as unnecessary medical examinations and consultations with psychologists or other specialists, or limit the right of women to access prenatal information and tests, which should be guaranteed to all by the public health system; that a person’s personal beliefs about abortion should not interfere with a patient’s right to full access to health care and services provided by law;

S. whereas access to gynecological care in Poland is very restricted and in some regions almost impossible, resulting in a high number of unwanted pregnancies, poor reproductive health, high prevalence of cervical and uterine cancer, and insufficient access to contraception; whereas in 2018, according to the Polish Court of Auditors, only 2% of pregnant women living in rural areas of Poland received all the usual examinations that are necessary during pregnancy; whereas the access of LGBTI + people to sexual and reproductive health care is severely restricted, as are their rights; whereas transgender and non-binary people who need gynecological care are discriminated against within medical structures and are often denied access to care;

T. whereas there has been an increase in the number of disturbing threats and hate campaigns targeting women human rights defenders in Poland for their support of women’s rights, the right to abortion and the movement “the Women’s Strike” which has been at the forefront of mass protests against restrictions on access to legal abortion; whereas these threats are a disturbing reminder of the growing risks to which women human rights defenders are exposed in the country;

U. whereas women human rights defenders are collecting signatures for a bill as part of the civic initiative prepared by the Federation for Women and Family Planning, entitled “Legal abortion. No compromise “that would… [allow to] interrupt a safe pregnancy until the 12th  week without asking the patient to give a reason, and in exceptional cases after the 12th week; that in September 2021, the Foundation for the Right to Life submitted to the Polish Parliament a bill entitled “Stop Abortion 2021” (Stop Aborcji), which would completely ban access to abortion and make it punishable by criminal penalties, with penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment;

V. whereas the laws of the Polish Parliament on the Constitutional Court, adopted on 22 December 2015 and on 22 July 2016, as well as the package of three laws adopted at the end of 2016, have seriously undermined the independence and legitimacy of the Constitutional Court… that the constitutionality of Polish laws can no longer be effectively guaranteed in Poland since the entry into force of the aforementioned legislative changes (16) and that the legality of the judgment of 22 October 2020 is therefore questionable;

W. whereas on 7 October 2021 the illegitimate “Constitutional Court” presented its decision in case K 3/21, adopted with two divergent opinions, on the request made on 29 March 2021 by the Polish Prime Minister, stating the provisions of the EU Treaty incompatible with the Polish constitution for multiple reasons; that this decision constitutes an attack on the European community of values ​​and laws as a whole, undermining the primacy of Union law as one of its fundamental principles, in accordance with the consistent case-law of the Court of justice of the European Union;

X. whereas the judgment of 22 October 2020 reconsiders the acquired rights of Polish women, given that before its implementation, abortion in Poland was legal in three cases, which means that Polish women find themselves today in a less favorable legal situation than when Poland joined the European Union in 2004…

Y. whereas the fundamentalist organization Ordo Iuris, closely linked to the ruling coalition, plays a leading role in campaigns that undermine human rights and gender equality in Poland, in particular through attempts to ban abortion, demands for Poland to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention and calls for the creation of “LGBTI-free zones”…

Z. whereas the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights, the Parliament and the Commission have expressed serious concerns about the rule of law, in particular as regards legitimacy, the independence and efficiency of the Constitutional Court…

1. Reiterates its strong condemnation of the illegitimate decision of the Constitutional Court of 22 October 2020 imposing an almost total ban on abortion and this blatant attack on sexual and reproductive rights in Poland; calls on the Polish government to quickly and fully guarantee access to and provision of abortion services, to provide safe, legal, free and quality abortion services, and to make them accessible to all women and girls; calls on the Polish authorities to respect, fulfill and promote women’s fundamental rights to life, health and equality, as well as their protection against any discrimination, violence, torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment;…

3. Expresses its solidarity with the Polish women and activists as well as with the courageous individuals and organizations who continue to help women access abortion care when they need it, as it is about their body and their choice; Deeply deplores the application of the decision, despite the very important demonstrations in favor of legal access to abortion; supports all women and human rights defenders who continue to protest relentlessly against these serious restrictions on their fundamental rights and freedoms; Notes that the demonstrators demand not only the annulment of the illegal decision of the Constitutional Court, but also the right to free, legal and safe access to abortion and to respect for autonomy and bodily integrity;

4. Stresses that restricting or prohibiting the right to abortion in no way reduces the need for this intervention, but forces women to have unsafe abortions, to travel abroad to gain access to it. abortion or to carry their pregnancy to term against their will, including in cases of fatal or serious fetal disorders…

5. Is deeply concerned that thousands of women have to travel to access such an essential health service as abortion; stresses that cross-border abortion services are not a viable option, in particular for people living in poverty, facing intersectional discrimination or even situations of vulnerability; is concerned that travel abroad endangers the health, life and well-being of women; stresses the importance of post-abortion care, in particular for women facing complications from incomplete or unsafe abortion;

6. Strongly condemns all legislative proposals or restrictions aimed at prohibiting, criminalizing and further limiting access to legal and safe abortion in Poland…

7. Condemns the increasingly hostile and violent environment facing human rights defenders in Poland… many human rights defenders in Poland are now facing criminal prosecution for their role in the protests against the bill following the restrictions against COVID-19 adopted since the start of the pandemic; urges the Polish government to refrain from instituting politically motivated criminal proceedings against human rights defenders;

8.Strongly condemns the excessive and disproportionate use of force and violence against protesters, including activists and women’s rights organizations, by law enforcement authorities and non-state actors such as extreme nationalist groups law; calls on the Polish authorities to hold those who attack demonstrators to account for their actions;

9.Condemns the hostile rhetoric used by Polish government officials against human rights defenders and other critics of government policies, and urges the Commission to address this issue and support both activists politically as well as financially;

10. Calls on the Polish government to ensure the participation of women and girls in the development of laws and policies that affect their lives, including reproductive and sexual health and abortion, and to enable them to access justice and remedies in the event of violation of their rights;

11. Calls on the Council and the Commission to provide adequate funding to national and local civil society organizations in order to promote support on the ground for democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in the Member States, including in Poland; urges the Commission to support, without delay or intermediary, Polish civil society programs and organizations working for the protection of sexual and reproductive rights; calls on the Commission and the Member States to support awareness-raising and training on sexual and reproductive rights through funding programs; Welcomes the support given by some Member States to civil society organizations which help Polish women to realize their sexual and reproductive rights, and encourages other Member States to do the same; calls on the Member States to cooperate more effectively in order to facilitate cross-border access to abortion, for example by enabling Polish women to benefit from free and safe access to abortion in national health systems;

12. Insists that abortion should under no circumstances be included in the penal code in any form, given the chilling effect of this inclusion on doctors who, therefore, refrain from providing sexual and reproductive health services for fear of criminal penalties and thus limit the health care available to women and girls; is alarmed that due to this situation doctors tend to prioritize the rescue of the fetus rather than the survival of the woman; calls on the Polish government to ensure that “not one more woman” in Poland dies as a result of this restrictive law, to fully decriminalize abortion and to remove any element related to abortion from the criminal law…

A further 18 clauses addressed to the government of Poland follow.  

FULL TEXT of the resolution in English. Also available at this link in all EU languages.