Why Poland is having huge protests

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Published at : 09 Dec 2020
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The country’s women are furious at their government.

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In October and November of 2020, Poland saw its biggest protests since the fall of its communist regime 30 years ago. Hundreds of thousands of women marched in defiance of a new court ruling that would outlaw abortions under almost any circumstance.

Poland has long had some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe. But in 2015, the right-wing party Law and Justice (PiS) came to power in Poland, and promptly started trying to narrow abortion access in the country even further. In 2016 they attempted to pass a total ban. They failed.

But in 2020, at the ruling party’s request, Poland’s highest court ruled that almost all abortions were illegal. They did so because Law and Justice had spent the previous few years degrading the court’s independence and turning it into an arm of the party. The protests began immediately, partly because of the ruling itself but also because of what it represents: the risk of losing not only reproductive rights but the country’s democratic institutions.

To understand why this ruling has driven so many into the streets, and exactly why it threatens Poland’s democracy, watch the video above.

Note: At 1:50, a previous version of this video illustrated a quote from Law & Justice party leader Jarosław Kaczyński with a photo of his late twin brother, former president Lech Kaczyński. The error has been corrected.

Sources and further reading:

To explore abortion laws around the world, check out this interactive map by the Center for Reproductive Rights:
https://reproductiverights.org/worldabortionlaws

If you prefer a comparative review of European abortion laws you can find it here:
https://reproductiverights.org/sites/default/files/documents/European%20abortion%20law%20a%20comparative%20review.pdf

To understand Poland’s evolution on abortion laws, from 1955 when it was legal on request to today's which are among the most restrictive in Europe, check out this article:
https://www.jstor.org/stable/2137747?seq=1

If you’d like to read Poland’s current abortion law, established in 1993, you can find it here:
https://www.reproductiverights.org/sites/crr.civicactions.net/files/documents/Polish%20abortion%20act--English%20translation.pdf

You can read the Constitutional Tribunal’s abortion ruling, issued on October 22nd, 2020, here:
https://trybunal.gov.pl/en/hearings/judgments/art/11300-planowanie-rodziny-ochrona-plodu-ludzkiego-i-warunki-dopuszczalnosci-przerywania-ciazy

Poland’s ruling drew condemnation from the Council of Europe, whose commissioner for human rights, Dunja Mijatović, called it "a sad day for women’s rights." You can learn more about that here:
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/22/poland-rules-abortion-due-to-foetal-defects-unconstitutional

The European Stability Initiative has released a report detailing the collapse of the rule of law in Poland. You can find it here:
https://www.esiweb.org/publications/where-law-ends-collapse-rule-law-poland-and-what-do

The Venice Commission, officially European Commission for Democracy through Law, is an advisory body of the Council of Europe, composed of independent experts in the field of constitutional law. You can read their opinion on Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal here:
https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-AD(2016)026-e

A shorter statement by the President of the Venice Commission can be found here:
https://www.coe.int/en/web/human-rights-rule-of-law/events/-/asset_publisher/E5WWthsy4Jfg/content/statement-by-the-president-of-the-venice-commission-regarding-the-constitutional-tribunal-of-poland

Thanks for watching! And please let us know what you think in the comments.

Watch our related video, why Poland's far-right party is pushing the EU into crisis: https://youtu.be/P8MQTgdjcLE

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