Polish anti-abortion laws and why such a scenario is far-fetched from happening in Romania

In case you missed the news, there was a lot of controversy in Poland related to the newest legislative proposal which the Parliament was discussing, namely the anti-abortion law. The existing legislation on abortion is already quite hard to suck in for Polish women. In fact, the most restrictive EU countries on abortion are Ireland, Malta and Poland.

If you are a Polish woman and you want to terminate your pregnancy, such an intervention is only legal in one of the following instances: if the pregnancy is the result of a sexual assault, if the pregnancy jeopardizes your life, if the unborn child presents signs of malformations/fatal diseases.

But the newest initiative proposed for debate in the Parliament would have changed that to allow women to have an abortion only under special circumstances. It would have bounded the State to the positive obligation to ensure the right to life to the unborn, thus the abortion would have been overall forbidden.

Currently, there is no consensus worldwide related to when a foetus starts being a human being and in international practice it is usually left to each State’s margin of appreciation.There is a pile some of opinions, both scientific and non-scientific related to the point when human life starts. This topic would qualify simultaneously as a religious and philosophical dilemma with one thing certain: no consensus on the topic. 

Well, the Polish Parliament was faced with the option to change the existing law by stating that an embryo is a human being since the moment of conception. Thus, according to this logic, abortion would be regarded as a criminal act and it would be punishable with up to five years in prison. Doctors would only be allowed to perform such an intervention if the woman is a step away from severe health damages. In practice, however, there are and there were cases where there were signs of such a threat to a woman’s life and the doctors still refused to perform abortion. Different doctors have different opinions on whether the woman’s life is indeed endangered by the foetus or not and by the time they reach consensus the pregnancy can be already too advanced to do anything.

Such a case was Tysiac v. Poland.  I came across it in my Human Rights class and had to deliver a presentation on it. This Polish lady took it to the European Court of Human Rights back in 2006 because the doctors refused to perform an abortion even though there were clear signs of her pregnancy endangering her life. She had a high risk of becoming blind if she gave birth to the yet unborn so she tried to terminate the pregnancy. Doctors did not agree with her and refused the woman’s wish for an abortion. As a result, she gave birth and her eyesight significantly worsened.

The Polish state argument in the Court was that the three ophthalmologists who warned her about becoming blind after delivering were not experts in the gynecological field and the gynecologists had no reason to take their advice. Also, the State made a case that the Polish woman’s eyesight worsened after giving birth but the two events were not connected, they just happened in the same time. The European Court on Human Rights found this case to be a violation by the State in respect to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 8 text: “Right to respect for private and family life: 8.1.: Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. 8.2.: There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right, except such as in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder and crime, for the protection of health and morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

This case was important because it was one of the cornerstone judgments taken by the ECtHR and it set the framework for future related cases. It said that the State should adopt a timely decision whenever similar situations arise and it should lessen the restriction on doctors to perform such surgeries. A relevant subsequent development to this case was in 2008, P. and S. v. Poland, where a 14 years old girl pregnant as a result of rape was refused the right to abortion. The ECtHR found a violation on Article 8 as well as a violation on Article 3 of the Convention. Article 3 refers to the prohibition of torture, stating no person should be submitted to inhuman or degrading treatment.

The question on everybody’s lips is: how is it possible that there are still laws like this? To me and to some other readers this seems like an infringement on human rights. Especially in a world where we are talking about eliminating the gender gap and giving both males and females equal rights, how is it possible that women in Poland do not enjoy freedom over their bodies?

Some Polish  women wanting to have the intervention travel to other countries for that purpose. It is quite often that they would go to neighboring Germany to have the surgery done. However, not every woman can afford travelling abroad and paying for the costs of the procedure. In fact, one of the main reasons that women decide they do not want to have a child is the financial reason. Because they do not think they have enough financial power to raise a child or because they are pursuing financial stability first and then having children.

Of course, on the other side, in a world where developed countries face demographic aging, pushing forward for increased natality would counterbalance the problem in a fast way. The law proposal was considered by the Parliament after it was received as a citizens’ initiative -which works just like in Romania. You gather 100 k signatures for a law proposal and it qualifies for debate in the Parliament. The petition was proposed by the StopAbortion coalition, which includes conservative group Ordo Iuris. I have to confess I never heard about them before this week. But I have googled them like a serious person I am and I have done some investigations on LinkedIn as well. The Director of the institute is Jerzy Kwasniewski. I found out that he is a graduate of Warsaw University where he got his Law diploma in 2007. The initiative was backed up in the Parliament by the right-wing Law and Justice Party. However, in the aftermath of Black Monday, the MPs were not very eager to push forward with the new law. And as a result, the votes against outnumbered the votes for, more precisely 352 to 58.

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Poland is not new to the abortion ban topic. Once in a while, there are talks and legislative initiatives either to completely legalize it or completely ban it. So it was the case in 1993 and 2011.

There is intertwining between religion and some positions of the society, such as the anti-abortion one. Let me wrap up the Catholic story very briefly. Eastern European countries all had some form of resistance against Communism. Either it was Robin Hood kind-of figures hiding in the mountains or exiled people speaking against the regime from abroad. In Poland, it was the Catholic Church. Catholicism helped the Polish people keep their identity. The anti-communist revolution in Poland started because and with the help of the Church and this feature made Poland stand out from  the Warsaw Pact crowd. (the Church led by Pope John Paul II supported Solidarity trade union led by Lech Walesa) And the Catholic Church is yet a very important opinion-maker and trusted institution in the country. Thus, the religious position on abortion is well-respected by the society. And as we very well know, the Church regards abortion as one of the capital sins, ranking it as terrible as murder. In Orthodoxy, one of the reasons why abortions are not tolerated is that killing a human being whom was never baptized means sentencing it to an eternity of torture in Hell. And of course, the act of killing a human being itself. The dogmas might be different for the two Christian religions, but the reasoning should be similar.

Now, fast forward to the comparison to Romania. There is a common denominator between the two countries, namely the overwhelmingly majority of the population is of the same religion (in Poland 87.5% Roman Catholicism and in Romania 81% Orthodox Christianity). There are also differences. First and foremost, I think the deepest one is that Romanians do not care that much about the topic. They are not very well acquainted to the word of God and seem to care less about religion in their daily life. First impression might have you thinking otherwise; but just think about when was the last time you read the Bible at home with your family. Mine was more than 10 years ago.

Also, Romanians experienced the ban on abortion during communism and they do not recall those times with nostalgia. They are still fresh in people’s memories. The nowadays 30-40 something in Romania are the children born in the times of the abortion ban. The natality increased significantly during those years. It reached a historical high of 23 million. Now we are 19 and decreasing. The law is known by the Romanian people as the Decree 770. It’s text is similar to some extent to the Polish legislation of the kind. The purpose back in Ceausescu’s leadership was not to seek heavenly reward and eternal life, but it was to increase the demographics. More comrades meant more labor force and that was the reason behind it. The outcomes of the Decree 770 were not that nice. Illegal abortions flourished and many women lost their lives as a result. The situation is depicted in Cristian Mungiu’s Cannes awarded movie, ‘4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days’. Had it been a different context, maybe the situation would have been different in Romania too. But the Decree 770 came in a period of financial shortages and economic restrictions during Nicolae Ceausescu’s regime. And as well in a period when being a religious person was not something encouraged.

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The discussion on the side of this topic could go on and on. It is important to note that the law proposal did not meet the necessary votes to move forward to the next stage. Polish women’s strike was as successful as the one in 1975 in Iceland.

Sources:

http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Convention_ENG.pdf European Convention on Human Rights

https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Poland_1997.pdf Constitution of Poland, 1997

http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-79812>#{“itemid”:[“001-79812“]} HUDOC Case Tysiac v. Poland

http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{“itemid”:[“001-114098“]} HUDOC Case P. and S. v. Poland

https://strasbourgobservers.com/2012/11/05/p-and-s-v-poland-adolescence-vulnerability-and-reproductive-autonomy/ P. and S. v. Poland: adolescence, vulnerability and reproductive anatomy

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37540139 Black Monday: Polish Women strike against abortion ban

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/03/polish-women-go-on-strike-in-protest-against-abortion-ban/ Polish women go on strike against abortion ban

http://www.lefigaro.fr/international/2016/10/01/01003-20161001ARTFIG00117-manifestation-en-pologne-contre-l-interdiction-totale-de-l-avortement.php Manifestation en Pologne contre l’interdiction totale de l’avortement

https://www.rt.com/news/361476-poland-women-abortion-protest/ Thousands of Polish women gather for ‘black protest’ against abortion ban

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/02/women-to-go-on-strike-in-poland-abortion-law Women to go on strike in Poland in protest at planned abortion law

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/06/polands-parliament-rejects-near-total-ban-on-abortion-after-protests Poland’s Parliament rejects near total ban on abortion after protests

http://www.ordoiuris.pl/opinia-prawna-dotyczaca-projektu-komitetu-inicjatywy-ustawodawczej-ratujmy-kobiety—-ustawy-o-prawach-kobiet-i-swiadomym-rodzicielstwie-,3878,analiza-prawna.html Legal Opinion on the Draft ‘Legislative Initiative Committee Ratujmy Women – Act on the Rights of the Women and Planned Parenthood

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1994-11-10/news/9411100067_1_communist-era-poland-christian-national-union Post-Communist Poland Debates Influence of the Catholic Church
http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-34602822 The Day Iceland’s Women Went On Strike

Pictures:

Facebook Page Czarny Protest

Facebook Page Protest Kobiet

www.imdb.com

 

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