The Center for Reproductive Rights, along with more than 100 other human rights organizations, released a joint statement that calls for the Polish parliament to reject two harmful proposals to restrict abortion and sexuality education being voted on this week. If passed, this pair of regressive bills will severely roll back women’s sexual and reproductive rights in the country.
Poland already has one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws, and the first bill would remove what little legal abortion access currently exists. The proposal to restrict abortion, titled “Stop Abortion,” seeks to ban abortions in situations of severe or fatal fetal impairment, currently one of only three legal grounds for abortion in Poland.
Since the majority of legal abortions in Poland are performed severe or fatal fetal impairment, the adoption of this bill would make abortion almost entirely inaccessible in the country. It would also create additional barriers for low-income women, women in rural areas, and women with disabilities, who are less able to travel internationally to access care.
Poland’s highly restrictive law on abortion already means that many women needing abortion care are travelling to other jurisdictions to access safe and legal care or obtain abortion medication from medical professionals in other countries. The global COVID-19 pandemic—and subsequent travel restrictions—now compounds the impact of these harmful laws, presenting an even more difficult and dangerous situation for people in Poland seeking abortions.
The second proposal, titled “Stop Pedophilia,” seeks to prohibit sexuality education in Poland. The proposal threatens with criminal penalties anyone, including doctors, teachers, and health professionals, who provides information about sexual or reproductive health care to adolescents. Despite its international human rights obligations, Poland still has no comprehensive sexuality education. This bill would leave adolescents in Poland vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and false information about their health.
“If adopted these bills would harm women’s and adolescent’s health and well-being and violate Poland’s international human rights obligations,” said Katrine Thomasen, senior legal advisor for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Members of Poland’s Parliament must reject these harmful and regressive proposals, and instead respond to the public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic by adopting urgent measures to guarantee safe and timely access to abortion care for women.”
The timing of this vote is no coincidence, since the Polish parliament is exploiting the COVID-19 crisis to push its idealogical agenda forward. Due to government lockdown orders, democratic mass protests (like the unprecedented “Black Monday” strike in 2016) cannot take place. However, women and civil society in Poland have found new and creative ways to express their opposition to this attempt to roll back sexual and reproductive rights, such as protesting on bikes while observing social distancing.
This is not the first time Poland has attempted to pass proposals restricting women’s reproductive rights. Just two years ago, the Center and partners released a statement opposing an identical “Stop Abortion” bill. The Center continues to stand in solidarity with women and civil society in Poland to protect their rights to safe and legal abortion care and sexuality education.