Thousands Take to the Streets as Poland Enforces Abortion Ban

The ruling removes one of the last legal avenues for women to terminate a pregnancy in a country that already has some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe.
Dipo Faloyin
London, GB
January 28, 2021, 11:50am
Protesters hold burning flares and flags during a demonstration against the abortion ban in Warsaw, organised by the Women's Strike.
Protesters hold burning flares and flags during a demonstration against the abortion ban in Warsaw, organised by the Women's Strike. Photo: Attila Husejnow/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Polish government has implemented a near-total ban on all abortions, months after a controversial ruling from the country’s Constitutional Tribunal sparked nationwide protests in opposition.  

On the 22nd of October last year, the Tribunal ruled that abortions in the case of severe foetal defects were unconstitutional. This removed one of the last legal avenues for women to terminate a pregnancy in a country that already has some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe. 

Following the ruling, hundreds of thousands of people took part in months-long demonstrations, led by women, in cities across Poland, at a scale not seen in decades. The mass movement initially forced a partial climbdown from the ruling right-wing populist Law and Justice party (PiS), as the government delayed implementing the new measure which, according to Polish law, should have come into effect days after the Constitutional Tribunal’s October ruling. Still, the government’s decision to postpone enacting the law didn’t stop hospitals from pre-emptively cancelling abortions. In the days following the ruling, Polish reproductive rights organisations reported a rise in the number of women seeking advice and travelling to other countries for abortions.

Unable to ignore the scale of the protests, Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, initially called for talks with pro-choice groups, signalling that the government was listening to concerns and open to finding a compromise. 

Pro-choice protesters hold up banners during a protest on the 27th of January in Warsaw, Poland

Pro-choice protesters hold up banners during a protest on the 27th of January in Warsaw, Poland. Photo by Omar Marques/Getty Images

But any chance of a full climbdown were ended on Wednesday afternoon when the government abruptly announced that in just a few hours, it would be publishing the high court’s decision in the country’s Journal of Laws, the final step needed to officially action a new ruling. 

Hours after the announcement, thousands of protesters returned to the streets of Warsaw and other major cities. The demonstrations were organised by the Polish Women's Strike – Poland’s largest pro-choice group. Early this week, in an interview with VICE World News, the group’s co-founder, Marta Lempart, predicted that the government would eventually go through with the ban because they were afraid to “show weakness to their conservative voters and lose to the [far-right] Confederation party who pretend they're libertarians, while, in fact, they’re regular neo-fascists.”

The ruling, which came into effect at midnight, means that abortions are now limited to cases of rape and incest, or if the mother’s life is in danger – scenarios that represent about 2 percent of all abortions in the staunchly Catholic nation.