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Poland debates prison terms for abortion in new blow to women’s rights

The Polish Parliament is set to discuss an anti-abortion bill from a religious ultra conservative group to jail women who access abortion and criminalize anyone who helps them do so.

Joint press release by IPPF EN and Civicus

The Polish Parliament is set to discuss an anti-abortion bill from a religious ultra conservative group to jail women who access abortion and criminalize anyone who helps them do so, including family members, friends and doctors.  

The new anti-abortion bill - proposed by Pro - The right to life Foundation - who also put forward a bill two years ago that would criminalize anyone who informs young people about sexuality and relationships - will be discussed in the Polish Parliament's lower chamber during a sitting on 1-2 December. The initiative comes one month after a woman named Izabela - died as a result of Poland’s restrictive abortion law, triggering widespread protests

The bill aims to enshrine extremist doctrine in law by establishing harsh prison terms in cases of abortion. Despite Izabela’s death and the recent protest about the current virtual abortion ban, the bill’s backers would support imprisoning women for up to 25 years for abortion and 5 years in case of miscarriage - considered ‘manslaughter’. The wording of the proposal could even lead to life imprisonment if the pregnant woman were charged with ‘aggravated murder’. 

In addition to introducing prison sentences, the proposal would remove the remaining, extremely limited, exceptions to the ban which currently allow abortion in cases of rape, incest and endangerment of the women’s life or health. This would further paralyse doctors whose hands are already tied in cases of severe foetal impairment.

“This is a nightmare scenario for women in Poland because the new bill bears striking similarity to El Salvador’s abortion ban, under which women are incarcerated if they have abortions or miscarriages. If Poland takes such a cruel decision it would simply devastate women and families’ lives,” says Irene Donadio of the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network.

It will be relatively straightforward for the Law and Justice party (PiS) and its allies to secure the adoption of the new bill at any time because they control the lower chamber of the parliament and have influence over the Constitutional Tribunal.*

In another shocking development, ahead of the Parliamentary sitting, Poland’s health ministry has announced that the government may force all health care professionals to register every pregnancy. 

“It’s obvious that this is a well orchestrated plan to put pregnant women under surveillance and then to prosecute them if they decide not to continue a pregnancy or even if they suffer a miscarriage. This insidious strategy will force doctors to inform on their patients and will create terror among pregnant women and those who try to help them to access vital care” continues Donadio. 

The Polish government's support of these initiatives has put it on a collision course with the EU. Human rights activists hope the EU will continue to apply pressure ahead of an upcoming state of play on the rule of law in Poland.

“We call on the Council of the EU to hold the Polish government accountable for violations of the rule of law and of women’s human rights. The General Affairs Council meeting on December 14 will set the tone for next steps with regards to Poland. We urge the EU Member States not to shy away from taking steps to make sure breaches of the rule of law and vast human rights abuses are not brushed under the carpet,” says Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Researcher Europe, Central Asia, MENA for CIVICUSMonitor.


Press Contact: International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network, in Brussels, Irene Donadio (English, Italian, French, Spanish): +32-491-071-93-90; or [email protected]. Twitter: @ippfen


Notes to the editor:

* The Law and Justice party (PiS) and its allies have an absolute majority in the lower chamber of the Polish Parliament. This means that the bill could be adopted on a fast track even if all the parties in opposition try to stop it or amend it in the Senate (where the ruling party does not have the majority). The opposition could delay the process for a month in the Senate but they cannot stop the adoption in a second reading in the lower chamber. If the parliamentarians of the ruling party want to disassociate themselves from this new attack on women’s rights they can flout the rule of law and send the bill to the politicized Constitutional Tribunal, having it adopted via the judiciary as they did last year. 

  • For more information on abortion care in Poland, see IPPF EN’s resources, including stories of women human rights defenders.
  • This new anti-abortion bill mirrors a proposal in 2016 that was met with massive public protests, forcing the government to abandon it. At that time, even the Polish Catholic Church witheld its support for the proposal because it would have jailed women for accessing abortion. Yet, in spite of the obvious lack of support both from the public and bishops, this latest ultra conservative bill is much harsher, mandating considerably higher prison sentences. 
  • bill proposing the creation of the "Family and Demography Institute" will be discussed during the same sitting of the lower chamber on December 1-2. The Institute is expected to be led by right wing fundamentalist parliamentarian Bartłomiej Wróblewski, the author of the motion to the pseudo - Constitutional Tribunal which has resulted in the current virtual ban on abortion. The head of the institute will be able to intervene as a prosecutor in court proceedings and in administrative processes regarding divorce or adoption filings (could decide over whether or not to grant a divorce and will be able to bring cases against LGBT parents - demanding that they be deprived of their parental rights). The head of the Institute will have access to data collected by any entity in Poland regarding pregnancies and miscarriages. The goal of the institute is to increase Poland's birth rate.





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