Polish Parliament Deliberates Groundbreaking Sexual and Reproductive Health Bill

(PRESS RELEASE) Members of Parliament in Poland – a country out of the step with the overwhelming majority of European countries with progressive sexual and reproductive health rights policies – are reviewing a draft bill this week that proposes trailblazing steps to guarantee women access to contraceptives and provides mandatory and comprehensive sex education in schools, ensure the right to prenatal genetic tests, and liberalize current regulations on abortion. If adopted, this law would make abortion legal in Poland in all circumstances until the 12th week of pregnancy.
 
“Conscious Parenthood,” is the first Polish bill ever introduced that addresses sexual and reproductive health rights broadly and recognizes reproductive rights as human rights. The Center for Reproductive Rights has been advocating for women’s reproductive rights in Europe for more than 10 years and welcomes this groundbreaking initiative.
 
“Guaranteeing safe abortion services, prenatal testing, contraceptive access, and comprehensive sex education is not only good public health policy, but also essential to protecting women's and adolescents’ fundamental human rights,” said Johanna Westeson, Regional Director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We urge Polish members of parliament to support the bill and this historic step forward for women’s rights.”
 
The Center’s local partner, Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning, held a press conference on Wednesday September 26, at which the organization described how Polish women are being deprived of their reproductive rights and the need to support this bill and adopt new legislation in order to ensure respect for the basic human rights of Polish women.
 
“We believe reproductive rights and access to sexual and reproductive health care are vital for prosperity and societal progress. We strongly urge Parliament to support the ‘Conscious Parenthood’ bill. If adopted the bill would yield widespread positive outcomes for women's health and well-being, and the well-being of the Polish population in its entirety,” said Krystyna Kacpura, Executive Director of the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning.
 
Poland has one of the lowest rates of modern contraceptive use in Europe — only 19 percent, compared with 81 percent for Great Britain, 38.9 percent for Italy and 29.5 percent for Romania — most likely due to the many barriers Polish women face in getting access to contraceptives. Current sex education focuses narrowly on marriage and family and addresses very little on sexuality and reproduction, primarily promoting abstinence and traditional methods of family planning.
 
Additionally, Poland’s current laws and policies regarding reproductive health and rights are restrictive. Abortion is only allowed in cases of rape, incest, when there is severe damage to the fetus, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the pregnant woman. However, in practice, women are often unable to end pregnancies even in cases where it is legal. Pregnant women have been denied crucial health care services due to the fact that the current law on abortion is unclear and lacks government regulation. It is also not uncommon that health care providers deny women access to legal abortion based on their personal or religious objections. As a result, an estimated 80,000-200,000 women per year in Poland are forced to pursue clandestine abortions.
 
The European Court of Human Rights has recognized the dangers and human rights violations to which Poland’s exceedingly restrictive and unclear abortion law exposes women. In Tysiąc v. Poland (2007) and R.R. v. Poland (2011) the Court found that Poland violated its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights to ensure practical and effective access to legal reproductive health services, including abortion and genetic prenatal testing. These judgments, as well as two currently pending cases before the court, reflect the continuing human rights violations scores of women in Poland face every day by the repeated denial of necessary and legal medical care.
 
The Center for Reproductive Rights sent a statement to the Polish Parliament this week urging Members to support the “Conscious Parenthood” bill. In addition, Members of the European Parliament and a group of Swedish parliamentarians also sent letters to the Polish Parliament showing their support for the bill.