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A selection of news from across the Federation

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IPPF EN cares - 2020 impact

IPPF EN cares for people in all their diversity across Europe and recognises their right to lead safe and dignified reproductive lives, free from harm and discrimination. 
IWD Poland
news item

| 17 February 2022

Civil society asks Council of the EU to act on rule of law collapse in Poland

As the EU Council prepares to discuss the rule of law situation in Poland at its upcoming meeting on 22 February 2022, FIDH and other civil society organisations from Poland and across the EU draw EU ministers’ attention to recent, alarming developments, pointing to a severe and steady decline in the respect for EU values in the country. These include attempts to undermine judicial independence, refusal to comply with European court’s decisions, attacks on media freedom, and restrictions on civic space. Rule of law deficits are having negative impacts on human rights, particularly on the sexual and reproductive rights of women and on LGBTI people’s rights. In the letter, the signatory organisations urge EU governments to address these developments at next week’s meeting, to adopt recommendations that Polish authorities will have to implement within a clear time frame and/or to hold a vote to establish that the EU core values of respect for democracy, the rule of law and human rights have been seriously breached in Poland. Poland has been under scrutiny by the Council since December 2017, when the European Commission triggered the procedure laid down in Article 7.1 TEU on account of the "clear risk of a serious breach" of the values referred to in Article 2 TEU in the country. Despite the many actions undertaken by EU institutions since 2017, the Polish government has continued to systematically infringe upon EU standards and ignore warnings and decisions from the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Court of Justice of the European Union. Immediate, effective, and concerted action by the Council is vital to halt attacks against Article 2 principles and reaffirm that rule of law and human rights violations have no place in the EU.

IWD Poland
news_item

| 15 February 2022

Civil society asks Council of the EU to act on rule of law collapse in Poland

As the EU Council prepares to discuss the rule of law situation in Poland at its upcoming meeting on 22 February 2022, FIDH and other civil society organisations from Poland and across the EU draw EU ministers’ attention to recent, alarming developments, pointing to a severe and steady decline in the respect for EU values in the country. These include attempts to undermine judicial independence, refusal to comply with European court’s decisions, attacks on media freedom, and restrictions on civic space. Rule of law deficits are having negative impacts on human rights, particularly on the sexual and reproductive rights of women and on LGBTI people’s rights. In the letter, the signatory organisations urge EU governments to address these developments at next week’s meeting, to adopt recommendations that Polish authorities will have to implement within a clear time frame and/or to hold a vote to establish that the EU core values of respect for democracy, the rule of law and human rights have been seriously breached in Poland. Poland has been under scrutiny by the Council since December 2017, when the European Commission triggered the procedure laid down in Article 7.1 TEU on account of the "clear risk of a serious breach" of the values referred to in Article 2 TEU in the country. Despite the many actions undertaken by EU institutions since 2017, the Polish government has continued to systematically infringe upon EU standards and ignore warnings and decisions from the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Court of Justice of the European Union. Immediate, effective, and concerted action by the Council is vital to halt attacks against Article 2 principles and reaffirm that rule of law and human rights violations have no place in the EU.

MEPs Poland support
news item

| 08 March 2022

Regression on Abortion Access Harms Women in Poland

26 January 2022 – One year after the ruling of Poland’s discredited Constitutional Tribunal banning access to abortion in almost all circumstances took effect, its devastating impact on the lives of women and all those in need of abortion care continues. The ruling has increased the extreme barriers women seeking access to abortion face and has had tragic consequences for many of them and their families. Since the ruling took effect on 27 January 2021, more than 1000 women have turned to the European Court of Human Rights in an effort to vindicate their rights, challenging Poland’s highly restrictive abortion law and seeking justice. These groundbreaking cases mark the first direct challenges to be filed before the European Court against Poland’s abortion law and the 2020 Constitutional Tribunal ruling. The applicants claim that the Polish abortion law causes them grave harm and violates their rights to privacy and freedom from torture and other ill-treatment. The Court is expected to begin ruling on some of these cases: K.B. v. Poland and 3 other applications; K.C. v. Poland and 3 other applications; and A.L.- B. v. Poland and 3 other applications. Nine leading international human rights organizations have filed third-party interventions to the European Court of Human Rights in these cases, including Amnesty International, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network (IPPF EN), Women Enabled International, Women’s Link Worldwide, and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The interventions provide evidence and analysis drawing on international human rights law, comparative European law and guidelines from the World Health Organization. They outline the profound implications that highly restrictive abortion laws have on the lives and health of women and girls of reproductive age.   Restrictive abortion laws such as Poland’s are contrary to international and European human rights standards and public health guidelines. They compromise women’s freedom, dignity, health, and lives. Our organizations’ interventions seek to highlight critical human rights aspects of such restrictive laws, and we are proud to support efforts to hold Poland accountable for these ongoing human rights violations, the organizations said.      Background Poland has one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws. Together with Malta, it is one of only two European Union Member States that has not legalized abortion on request or broad social grounds. In Poland, abortion is only permitted in situations of risk to the life or health of a pregnant woman, or if a pregnancy results from rape. In practice, however, it is almost impossible for those eligible for a legal abortion to obtain one. Every year thousands of women leave Poland to access abortion care in other European countries, while others import medical abortion pills or seek extra-legal abortion in Poland. Polish women, particularly those in difficult socio-economic situations, have to depend on the crucial help from civil society organizations, with often limited resources. On 22 October 2020, Poland’s discredited Constitutional Tribunal ruled that abortion on grounds of “severe and irreversible fetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the fetus’ life” was unconstitutional. The ruling followed a case filed by members of the Polish Parliament and formally supported by the Prosecutor General. The ruling came into force on 27 January 2021. Both the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission have found that the Constitutional Tribunal does not meet fair trial requirements due to its lack of independence from the legislative and the executive powers. The ruling eliminated one of the only remaining legal grounds for abortion under Poland’s highly restrictive law and its entry into force means that there is now effectively a near-total ban on abortion in Poland. Previously, over 90 percent of the approximately 1,000 legal abortions annually performed in Poland were on this ground. The ruling came as the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions made travel for abortion care prohibitively difficult and costly. It  spurred the country’s largest public protests in decades, led by women human rights defenders. Activists and women’s rights organizations report that the ruling is having a significant chilling effect as medical professionals fear repercussions even in situations where abortion remains legal. Women human rights defenders and civil society organizations advocating for the ruling to be overturned and for reform of Poland’s abortion law have faced threats of violence and several protestors have been prosecuted.   Read the third-party submissions here. For more information about the cases filed by 12 Polish women see: K.B. v. Poland and 3 other applications K.C. v. Poland and 3 other applications A.L.- B. v. Poland and 3 other applications   For more information on the developments following the Tribunal’s ruling see e.g.: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_7070   For more information, please contact: For the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network, Irene Donadio: [email protected], +32 491 71 93 90, Twitter: @ippfen

MEPs Poland support
news_item

| 26 January 2022

Regression on Abortion Access Harms Women in Poland

26 January 2022 – One year after the ruling of Poland’s discredited Constitutional Tribunal banning access to abortion in almost all circumstances took effect, its devastating impact on the lives of women and all those in need of abortion care continues. The ruling has increased the extreme barriers women seeking access to abortion face and has had tragic consequences for many of them and their families. Since the ruling took effect on 27 January 2021, more than 1000 women have turned to the European Court of Human Rights in an effort to vindicate their rights, challenging Poland’s highly restrictive abortion law and seeking justice. These groundbreaking cases mark the first direct challenges to be filed before the European Court against Poland’s abortion law and the 2020 Constitutional Tribunal ruling. The applicants claim that the Polish abortion law causes them grave harm and violates their rights to privacy and freedom from torture and other ill-treatment. The Court is expected to begin ruling on some of these cases: K.B. v. Poland and 3 other applications; K.C. v. Poland and 3 other applications; and A.L.- B. v. Poland and 3 other applications. Nine leading international human rights organizations have filed third-party interventions to the European Court of Human Rights in these cases, including Amnesty International, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network (IPPF EN), Women Enabled International, Women’s Link Worldwide, and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The interventions provide evidence and analysis drawing on international human rights law, comparative European law and guidelines from the World Health Organization. They outline the profound implications that highly restrictive abortion laws have on the lives and health of women and girls of reproductive age.   Restrictive abortion laws such as Poland’s are contrary to international and European human rights standards and public health guidelines. They compromise women’s freedom, dignity, health, and lives. Our organizations’ interventions seek to highlight critical human rights aspects of such restrictive laws, and we are proud to support efforts to hold Poland accountable for these ongoing human rights violations, the organizations said.      Background Poland has one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws. Together with Malta, it is one of only two European Union Member States that has not legalized abortion on request or broad social grounds. In Poland, abortion is only permitted in situations of risk to the life or health of a pregnant woman, or if a pregnancy results from rape. In practice, however, it is almost impossible for those eligible for a legal abortion to obtain one. Every year thousands of women leave Poland to access abortion care in other European countries, while others import medical abortion pills or seek extra-legal abortion in Poland. Polish women, particularly those in difficult socio-economic situations, have to depend on the crucial help from civil society organizations, with often limited resources. On 22 October 2020, Poland’s discredited Constitutional Tribunal ruled that abortion on grounds of “severe and irreversible fetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the fetus’ life” was unconstitutional. The ruling followed a case filed by members of the Polish Parliament and formally supported by the Prosecutor General. The ruling came into force on 27 January 2021. Both the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission have found that the Constitutional Tribunal does not meet fair trial requirements due to its lack of independence from the legislative and the executive powers. The ruling eliminated one of the only remaining legal grounds for abortion under Poland’s highly restrictive law and its entry into force means that there is now effectively a near-total ban on abortion in Poland. Previously, over 90 percent of the approximately 1,000 legal abortions annually performed in Poland were on this ground. The ruling came as the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions made travel for abortion care prohibitively difficult and costly. It  spurred the country’s largest public protests in decades, led by women human rights defenders. Activists and women’s rights organizations report that the ruling is having a significant chilling effect as medical professionals fear repercussions even in situations where abortion remains legal. Women human rights defenders and civil society organizations advocating for the ruling to be overturned and for reform of Poland’s abortion law have faced threats of violence and several protestors have been prosecuted.   Read the third-party submissions here. For more information about the cases filed by 12 Polish women see: K.B. v. Poland and 3 other applications K.C. v. Poland and 3 other applications A.L.- B. v. Poland and 3 other applications   For more information on the developments following the Tribunal’s ruling see e.g.: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_7070   For more information, please contact: For the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network, Irene Donadio: [email protected], +32 491 71 93 90, Twitter: @ippfen

IPPF EN brochure
news item

| 12 January 2022

IPPF EN cares - 2020 impact

IPPF EN cares for people in all their diversity across Europe and recognises their right to lead safe and dignified reproductive lives, free from harm and discrimination.  This page summarizes progress made by IPPF to achieve our Strategic Framework 2016-2022 so that everyone can realize their sexual and reproductive health and rights. The COVID‑19 pandemic caused significant disruption to frontline services and advocacy efforts. But IPPF Member Associations (MAs) have shown extraordinary resilience, advocating with their governments for the inclusion of sexual and reproductive health as essential healthcare. Several played a critical role in influencing policy changes to sustain access to services. These included approval of telemedicine, online consultations, home use of medical abortion, and the provision of online relationship and sexuality education (RSE). MAs also adapted their service delivery models.

IPPF EN brochure
news_item

| 12 January 2022

IPPF EN cares - 2020 impact

IPPF EN cares for people in all their diversity across Europe and recognises their right to lead safe and dignified reproductive lives, free from harm and discrimination.  This page summarizes progress made by IPPF to achieve our Strategic Framework 2016-2022 so that everyone can realize their sexual and reproductive health and rights. The COVID‑19 pandemic caused significant disruption to frontline services and advocacy efforts. But IPPF Member Associations (MAs) have shown extraordinary resilience, advocating with their governments for the inclusion of sexual and reproductive health as essential healthcare. Several played a critical role in influencing policy changes to sustain access to services. These included approval of telemedicine, online consultations, home use of medical abortion, and the provision of online relationship and sexuality education (RSE). MAs also adapted their service delivery models.

Poland
news item

| 06 January 2022

Polish Parliament votes on anti-rights bills

Reaction to vote to establish the Polish Institute of Family and Demography IPPF EN is appalled to learn that the lower chamber of the Polish parliament has today given the green light to establish the Polish Institute of Family and Demography. This seemingly innocuous initiative is anything but. It would allow for increased and unnecessary data processing on people’s reproductive health and expanded interference by the state in people’s family lives.  Prosecutorial powers would be granted to the Institute’s President, allowing them to interfere in or initiate court and administrative proceedings that fall under the scope of family or children’s rights, such as parental or adoption rights. Polish activists fear this could be used against LGBTQI families by allowing the President to apply for the removal of parental rights from LGBT parents, for example. One look at the track-record of the current presidential-hopeful indicates this fear may be founded: it is Bartłomiej Wróblewski, a PiS MP who submitted the motion to Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal that led to the virtual ban on abortion.  The Institute would also be invested with expanded data-processing powers. It would be allowed to “process any information, including personal data, necessary for the performance of its statutory tasks,” although particular attention would be paid to data on marriage and fertility. Again, activists fear that this is an attempt to introduce a system of surveillance on people’s private lives, particularly as it coincides with a recent initiative by the Health Ministry to establish a pregnancy registry, which expands data-gathering on pregnant people. If deemed ‘necessary’ by the Institute, it could process data on pregnancies, contraceptive access, emergency contraception and pregnancy loss. Activists point to how the latter has been used with devastating effect against women in countries with draconian abortion laws, where women who have suffered miscarriage are accused of accessing abortion, and prosecuted. 

Poland
news_item

| 02 December 2021

Polish Parliament votes on anti-rights bills

Reaction to vote to establish the Polish Institute of Family and Demography IPPF EN is appalled to learn that the lower chamber of the Polish parliament has today given the green light to establish the Polish Institute of Family and Demography. This seemingly innocuous initiative is anything but. It would allow for increased and unnecessary data processing on people’s reproductive health and expanded interference by the state in people’s family lives.  Prosecutorial powers would be granted to the Institute’s President, allowing them to interfere in or initiate court and administrative proceedings that fall under the scope of family or children’s rights, such as parental or adoption rights. Polish activists fear this could be used against LGBTQI families by allowing the President to apply for the removal of parental rights from LGBT parents, for example. One look at the track-record of the current presidential-hopeful indicates this fear may be founded: it is Bartłomiej Wróblewski, a PiS MP who submitted the motion to Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal that led to the virtual ban on abortion.  The Institute would also be invested with expanded data-processing powers. It would be allowed to “process any information, including personal data, necessary for the performance of its statutory tasks,” although particular attention would be paid to data on marriage and fertility. Again, activists fear that this is an attempt to introduce a system of surveillance on people’s private lives, particularly as it coincides with a recent initiative by the Health Ministry to establish a pregnancy registry, which expands data-gathering on pregnant people. If deemed ‘necessary’ by the Institute, it could process data on pregnancies, contraceptive access, emergency contraception and pregnancy loss. Activists point to how the latter has been used with devastating effect against women in countries with draconian abortion laws, where women who have suffered miscarriage are accused of accessing abortion, and prosecuted. 

Polish flag
news item

| 08 March 2022

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

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.  A 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.

Polish flag
news_item

| 29 November 2021

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

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.  A 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.

EP Poland
news item

| 08 March 2022

Poland: A Year On, Abortion Ruling Harms Women

(Brussels, October 19, 2021) – Women, girls, and all pregnant people have faced extreme barriers to accessing legal abortions in the year since a Constitutional Tribunal ruling virtually banned legal abortion in Poland, 14 human rights organizations said today. Since the ruling, women human rights defenders have also faced an increasingly hostile and dangerous environment. Poland’s authorities should end efforts to undermine reproductive rights and weaken protections from gender-based violence. They should commit to protecting women human rights defenders who have faced ongoing threats and attacks since the October 2020 decision. Escalating death threats since October 9 against Marta Lempart, co-founder of Ognopolski Strajk Kobiet (All-Poland Women’s Strike) and a target of repeated threats for leading demonstrations supporting legal abortion and women’s rights, led to her police protection during public appearances. “The Constitutional Tribunal ruling is causing incalculable harm to women and girls – especially those who are poor, live in rural areas, or are marginalized,” said Urszula Grycuk, international advocacy coordinator at the Federation for Women and Family Planning (Federa) in Poland. “The dignity, freedom and health of pregnant people are compromised because their own government is denying them access to essential reproductive health care.” The organizations are Abortion Support Network, Amnesty International, the Center for Reproductive Rights, CIVICUS, Federa, FOKUS, Human Rights Watch, International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), International Planned Parenthood Federation-European Network, MSI Reproductive Choices, Le Planning Familial, Riksförbundet för sexuell upplysning/The Swedish Association for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, and Strajk Kobiet/Women’s Strike. Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, whose independence and legitimacy is profoundly eroded, is widely acknowledged as politically compromised. On October 22, 2020, it ruled that abortion on grounds of “severe and irreversible fetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the fetus’ life” was unconstitutional. The government brought the case to the tribunal after parliament failed to adopt legislation with the same effect. The ruling came into force on January 27, 2021. This eliminated one of the few legal grounds for abortion under Poland’s highly restrictive law. Previously, over 90 percent of the approximately 1,000 legal abortions annually in Poland were on these grounds. The ruling came as Covid-19 pandemic restrictions made travel for health care prohibitively difficult and costly. The ruling spurred the country’s largest public protests in decades, led by women human rights defenders. Activists and women’s rights groups reported that the ruling had a significant chilling effect as people seeking abortions and medical professionals feared repercussions. Abortion Without Borders, which aids women in European countries where abortion is illegal or access is highly restricted, reported that 17,000 women in Poland contacted them in the six months after the ruling for help accessing abortion, and that they continue to receive about 800 calls a month. Federa, a Polish reproductive health and rights organization, reported conducting approximately 8,100 consultations in the 11 months after the ruling, 3 times as many as during the same period in previous years. This included calls to its helpline and over 5,000 emails concerning access to abortion and other sexual and reproductive health services. Since the Law and Justice party came to power in 2015, Poland’s government has repeatedly moved to further curb sexual and reproductive health and rights, including by supporting a 2016 draft bill for a total abortion ban that parliament rejected following mass public protest. The government also supported a draft bill, introduced by an ultra-conservative group, to essentially criminalize comprehensive sexuality education. The bill has been in committee since April 2020. These bills are “civic initiatives,” which require public signatures to be considered. In September 2021, the same group introduced a new civic initiative “Stop Abortion” bill to parliament. It would consider abortion at any stage a homicide and would bring criminal penalties against women who have abortions, and anyone who assists them, with punishment of up to 25 years in prison. The bill is backed by Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture, an ultra-conservative, anti-choice, and anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) group. Women’s rights organizations and parliament members of the opposition Lewica party are collecting signatures for a civic initiative bill, “Legal Abortion Without Compromise,” which would permit abortion without restriction as to reason up to the twelfth week of pregnancy. It would permit abortion after 12 weeks in cases of risk to the person’s mental or physical health, a non-viable pregnancy, or pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. Evidence consistently demonstrates that laws restricting or criminalizing abortion do not eliminate it, but rather drive people to seek abortion through means that may put their mental and physical health at risk and diminish their autonomy and dignity. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has said that as part of the obligation to protect the right to life of pregnant people, states should not apply criminal sanctions against anyone undergoing abortion or medical service providers assisting them. In July, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) announced that it will address complaints from Polish women who may be victims of violations of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms due to the Constitutional Tribunal’s abortion ruling. Poland’s government has failed to effectively implement previous ECtHR judgments concerning access to lawful abortion despite repeated calls and a March judgment by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The Law and Justice government has also targeted women’s rights organizations and activists. Activists said that government rhetoric and media campaigns smearing them and their work foster misinformation and hate that can put their safety at risk. Several women’s rights defenders were detained or face what they describe as politically motivated criminal charges for actions during protests following the Constitutional Tribunal’s abortion ruling. Activists received multiple bomb and death threats in February and March for their support of reproductive rights but said that, in many cases, police minimized the security risks and either did not open investigations or failed to pursue them effectively. No one has been held accountable for these threats. Police launched investigations and arrested one man in connection with online death threats to Lempart ahead of her planned appearance at a protest on October 11, and are now providing her protection at public events. The government has undermined efforts to combat gender-based violence, including by initiating Poland’s withdrawal from a landmark European convention on violence against women, the Istanbul Convention. The government referred the convention to the politically compromised Constitutional Tribunal for review due to its definition of “gender.” Campaigns against gender equality have been used to target women’s and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex rights and those who support them. “Extreme restrictions on abortion are part of a broader assault by Poland’s government on human rights, including women’s rights and LGBTI rights, and the rule of law,” said Marta Lempart, co-founder of Strajk Kobiet. “It should alarm all Europeans that this is happening in their own backyard, even as European governments claim to be leaders on women’s rights and democratic values.” The anti-abortion ruling’s anniversary comes amid increasing tensions between Poland’s government and the European Union after an October 7 Constitutional Tribunal ruling rejecting the binding nature of EU law. It followed a series of EU Court of Justice rulings that the Polish government’s weakening of judicial independence breaches EU law. The European Commission said it “will not hesitate to make use of its powers” under EU treaties to ensure application of EU law and protect people’s rights. Poland’s government should reverse restrictions on reproductive rights and ensure that these rights are upheld in accordance with international law, including the right to access safe abortion. It should cease attacks on women’s rights and women human rights defenders and end moves to undermine the rule of law, democracy, and human rights. The European Commission and EU member states should urgently address rule of law breaches and their impact on women’s human rights, including reproductive rights, in Poland. The European Commission should trigger legal infringement proceedings for Polish authorities’ use of a politically compromised Constitutional Tribunal to erode the rights of people in Poland and undermine democratic checks and balances, in blatant violation of the EU Treaties. The Commission and EU member states should act to protect and support women’s rights defenders and organizations in Poland. Member states should actively support people in Poland seeking access to abortion. The Commission should urgently implement the mechanism tying access to EU funds to respect for EU values and continue its commitment to tie EU Recovery Funds to rule of law guarantees. EU member states should advance and expand scrutiny under Article 7.1 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) by adopting specific recommendations or voting to determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach of EU values in Poland, as has been called for also by European Parliament. “Despite fear and repercussions, people in Poland are fighting every day to protect rights that everyone in the EU should be able to exercise freely, including access to safe abortion,” said Hillary Margolis, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Women’s rights are on a precipice in Poland, and unless the European Commission and Council act to defend democratic values, more and more women and girls will suffer the consequences.” Press Contact: International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network, in Brussels, Irene Donadio (English, Italian): +32-491-071-93-90; or [email protected] Twitter: @ippfen

EP Poland
news_item

| 19 October 2021

Poland: A Year On, Abortion Ruling Harms Women

(Brussels, October 19, 2021) – Women, girls, and all pregnant people have faced extreme barriers to accessing legal abortions in the year since a Constitutional Tribunal ruling virtually banned legal abortion in Poland, 14 human rights organizations said today. Since the ruling, women human rights defenders have also faced an increasingly hostile and dangerous environment. Poland’s authorities should end efforts to undermine reproductive rights and weaken protections from gender-based violence. They should commit to protecting women human rights defenders who have faced ongoing threats and attacks since the October 2020 decision. Escalating death threats since October 9 against Marta Lempart, co-founder of Ognopolski Strajk Kobiet (All-Poland Women’s Strike) and a target of repeated threats for leading demonstrations supporting legal abortion and women’s rights, led to her police protection during public appearances. “The Constitutional Tribunal ruling is causing incalculable harm to women and girls – especially those who are poor, live in rural areas, or are marginalized,” said Urszula Grycuk, international advocacy coordinator at the Federation for Women and Family Planning (Federa) in Poland. “The dignity, freedom and health of pregnant people are compromised because their own government is denying them access to essential reproductive health care.” The organizations are Abortion Support Network, Amnesty International, the Center for Reproductive Rights, CIVICUS, Federa, FOKUS, Human Rights Watch, International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), International Planned Parenthood Federation-European Network, MSI Reproductive Choices, Le Planning Familial, Riksförbundet för sexuell upplysning/The Swedish Association for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, and Strajk Kobiet/Women’s Strike. Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, whose independence and legitimacy is profoundly eroded, is widely acknowledged as politically compromised. On October 22, 2020, it ruled that abortion on grounds of “severe and irreversible fetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the fetus’ life” was unconstitutional. The government brought the case to the tribunal after parliament failed to adopt legislation with the same effect. The ruling came into force on January 27, 2021. This eliminated one of the few legal grounds for abortion under Poland’s highly restrictive law. Previously, over 90 percent of the approximately 1,000 legal abortions annually in Poland were on these grounds. The ruling came as Covid-19 pandemic restrictions made travel for health care prohibitively difficult and costly. The ruling spurred the country’s largest public protests in decades, led by women human rights defenders. Activists and women’s rights groups reported that the ruling had a significant chilling effect as people seeking abortions and medical professionals feared repercussions. Abortion Without Borders, which aids women in European countries where abortion is illegal or access is highly restricted, reported that 17,000 women in Poland contacted them in the six months after the ruling for help accessing abortion, and that they continue to receive about 800 calls a month. Federa, a Polish reproductive health and rights organization, reported conducting approximately 8,100 consultations in the 11 months after the ruling, 3 times as many as during the same period in previous years. This included calls to its helpline and over 5,000 emails concerning access to abortion and other sexual and reproductive health services. Since the Law and Justice party came to power in 2015, Poland’s government has repeatedly moved to further curb sexual and reproductive health and rights, including by supporting a 2016 draft bill for a total abortion ban that parliament rejected following mass public protest. The government also supported a draft bill, introduced by an ultra-conservative group, to essentially criminalize comprehensive sexuality education. The bill has been in committee since April 2020. These bills are “civic initiatives,” which require public signatures to be considered. In September 2021, the same group introduced a new civic initiative “Stop Abortion” bill to parliament. It would consider abortion at any stage a homicide and would bring criminal penalties against women who have abortions, and anyone who assists them, with punishment of up to 25 years in prison. The bill is backed by Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture, an ultra-conservative, anti-choice, and anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) group. Women’s rights organizations and parliament members of the opposition Lewica party are collecting signatures for a civic initiative bill, “Legal Abortion Without Compromise,” which would permit abortion without restriction as to reason up to the twelfth week of pregnancy. It would permit abortion after 12 weeks in cases of risk to the person’s mental or physical health, a non-viable pregnancy, or pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. Evidence consistently demonstrates that laws restricting or criminalizing abortion do not eliminate it, but rather drive people to seek abortion through means that may put their mental and physical health at risk and diminish their autonomy and dignity. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has said that as part of the obligation to protect the right to life of pregnant people, states should not apply criminal sanctions against anyone undergoing abortion or medical service providers assisting them. In July, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) announced that it will address complaints from Polish women who may be victims of violations of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms due to the Constitutional Tribunal’s abortion ruling. Poland’s government has failed to effectively implement previous ECtHR judgments concerning access to lawful abortion despite repeated calls and a March judgment by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The Law and Justice government has also targeted women’s rights organizations and activists. Activists said that government rhetoric and media campaigns smearing them and their work foster misinformation and hate that can put their safety at risk. Several women’s rights defenders were detained or face what they describe as politically motivated criminal charges for actions during protests following the Constitutional Tribunal’s abortion ruling. Activists received multiple bomb and death threats in February and March for their support of reproductive rights but said that, in many cases, police minimized the security risks and either did not open investigations or failed to pursue them effectively. No one has been held accountable for these threats. Police launched investigations and arrested one man in connection with online death threats to Lempart ahead of her planned appearance at a protest on October 11, and are now providing her protection at public events. The government has undermined efforts to combat gender-based violence, including by initiating Poland’s withdrawal from a landmark European convention on violence against women, the Istanbul Convention. The government referred the convention to the politically compromised Constitutional Tribunal for review due to its definition of “gender.” Campaigns against gender equality have been used to target women’s and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex rights and those who support them. “Extreme restrictions on abortion are part of a broader assault by Poland’s government on human rights, including women’s rights and LGBTI rights, and the rule of law,” said Marta Lempart, co-founder of Strajk Kobiet. “It should alarm all Europeans that this is happening in their own backyard, even as European governments claim to be leaders on women’s rights and democratic values.” The anti-abortion ruling’s anniversary comes amid increasing tensions between Poland’s government and the European Union after an October 7 Constitutional Tribunal ruling rejecting the binding nature of EU law. It followed a series of EU Court of Justice rulings that the Polish government’s weakening of judicial independence breaches EU law. The European Commission said it “will not hesitate to make use of its powers” under EU treaties to ensure application of EU law and protect people’s rights. Poland’s government should reverse restrictions on reproductive rights and ensure that these rights are upheld in accordance with international law, including the right to access safe abortion. It should cease attacks on women’s rights and women human rights defenders and end moves to undermine the rule of law, democracy, and human rights. The European Commission and EU member states should urgently address rule of law breaches and their impact on women’s human rights, including reproductive rights, in Poland. The European Commission should trigger legal infringement proceedings for Polish authorities’ use of a politically compromised Constitutional Tribunal to erode the rights of people in Poland and undermine democratic checks and balances, in blatant violation of the EU Treaties. The Commission and EU member states should act to protect and support women’s rights defenders and organizations in Poland. Member states should actively support people in Poland seeking access to abortion. The Commission should urgently implement the mechanism tying access to EU funds to respect for EU values and continue its commitment to tie EU Recovery Funds to rule of law guarantees. EU member states should advance and expand scrutiny under Article 7.1 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) by adopting specific recommendations or voting to determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach of EU values in Poland, as has been called for also by European Parliament. “Despite fear and repercussions, people in Poland are fighting every day to protect rights that everyone in the EU should be able to exercise freely, including access to safe abortion,” said Hillary Margolis, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Women’s rights are on a precipice in Poland, and unless the European Commission and Council act to defend democratic values, more and more women and girls will suffer the consequences.” Press Contact: International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network, in Brussels, Irene Donadio (English, Italian): +32-491-071-93-90; or [email protected] Twitter: @ippfen

IWD Poland
news item

| 17 February 2022

Civil society asks Council of the EU to act on rule of law collapse in Poland

As the EU Council prepares to discuss the rule of law situation in Poland at its upcoming meeting on 22 February 2022, FIDH and other civil society organisations from Poland and across the EU draw EU ministers’ attention to recent, alarming developments, pointing to a severe and steady decline in the respect for EU values in the country. These include attempts to undermine judicial independence, refusal to comply with European court’s decisions, attacks on media freedom, and restrictions on civic space. Rule of law deficits are having negative impacts on human rights, particularly on the sexual and reproductive rights of women and on LGBTI people’s rights. In the letter, the signatory organisations urge EU governments to address these developments at next week’s meeting, to adopt recommendations that Polish authorities will have to implement within a clear time frame and/or to hold a vote to establish that the EU core values of respect for democracy, the rule of law and human rights have been seriously breached in Poland. Poland has been under scrutiny by the Council since December 2017, when the European Commission triggered the procedure laid down in Article 7.1 TEU on account of the "clear risk of a serious breach" of the values referred to in Article 2 TEU in the country. Despite the many actions undertaken by EU institutions since 2017, the Polish government has continued to systematically infringe upon EU standards and ignore warnings and decisions from the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Court of Justice of the European Union. Immediate, effective, and concerted action by the Council is vital to halt attacks against Article 2 principles and reaffirm that rule of law and human rights violations have no place in the EU.

IWD Poland
news_item

| 15 February 2022

Civil society asks Council of the EU to act on rule of law collapse in Poland

As the EU Council prepares to discuss the rule of law situation in Poland at its upcoming meeting on 22 February 2022, FIDH and other civil society organisations from Poland and across the EU draw EU ministers’ attention to recent, alarming developments, pointing to a severe and steady decline in the respect for EU values in the country. These include attempts to undermine judicial independence, refusal to comply with European court’s decisions, attacks on media freedom, and restrictions on civic space. Rule of law deficits are having negative impacts on human rights, particularly on the sexual and reproductive rights of women and on LGBTI people’s rights. In the letter, the signatory organisations urge EU governments to address these developments at next week’s meeting, to adopt recommendations that Polish authorities will have to implement within a clear time frame and/or to hold a vote to establish that the EU core values of respect for democracy, the rule of law and human rights have been seriously breached in Poland. Poland has been under scrutiny by the Council since December 2017, when the European Commission triggered the procedure laid down in Article 7.1 TEU on account of the "clear risk of a serious breach" of the values referred to in Article 2 TEU in the country. Despite the many actions undertaken by EU institutions since 2017, the Polish government has continued to systematically infringe upon EU standards and ignore warnings and decisions from the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Court of Justice of the European Union. Immediate, effective, and concerted action by the Council is vital to halt attacks against Article 2 principles and reaffirm that rule of law and human rights violations have no place in the EU.

MEPs Poland support
news item

| 08 March 2022

Regression on Abortion Access Harms Women in Poland

26 January 2022 – One year after the ruling of Poland’s discredited Constitutional Tribunal banning access to abortion in almost all circumstances took effect, its devastating impact on the lives of women and all those in need of abortion care continues. The ruling has increased the extreme barriers women seeking access to abortion face and has had tragic consequences for many of them and their families. Since the ruling took effect on 27 January 2021, more than 1000 women have turned to the European Court of Human Rights in an effort to vindicate their rights, challenging Poland’s highly restrictive abortion law and seeking justice. These groundbreaking cases mark the first direct challenges to be filed before the European Court against Poland’s abortion law and the 2020 Constitutional Tribunal ruling. The applicants claim that the Polish abortion law causes them grave harm and violates their rights to privacy and freedom from torture and other ill-treatment. The Court is expected to begin ruling on some of these cases: K.B. v. Poland and 3 other applications; K.C. v. Poland and 3 other applications; and A.L.- B. v. Poland and 3 other applications. Nine leading international human rights organizations have filed third-party interventions to the European Court of Human Rights in these cases, including Amnesty International, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network (IPPF EN), Women Enabled International, Women’s Link Worldwide, and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The interventions provide evidence and analysis drawing on international human rights law, comparative European law and guidelines from the World Health Organization. They outline the profound implications that highly restrictive abortion laws have on the lives and health of women and girls of reproductive age.   Restrictive abortion laws such as Poland’s are contrary to international and European human rights standards and public health guidelines. They compromise women’s freedom, dignity, health, and lives. Our organizations’ interventions seek to highlight critical human rights aspects of such restrictive laws, and we are proud to support efforts to hold Poland accountable for these ongoing human rights violations, the organizations said.      Background Poland has one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws. Together with Malta, it is one of only two European Union Member States that has not legalized abortion on request or broad social grounds. In Poland, abortion is only permitted in situations of risk to the life or health of a pregnant woman, or if a pregnancy results from rape. In practice, however, it is almost impossible for those eligible for a legal abortion to obtain one. Every year thousands of women leave Poland to access abortion care in other European countries, while others import medical abortion pills or seek extra-legal abortion in Poland. Polish women, particularly those in difficult socio-economic situations, have to depend on the crucial help from civil society organizations, with often limited resources. On 22 October 2020, Poland’s discredited Constitutional Tribunal ruled that abortion on grounds of “severe and irreversible fetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the fetus’ life” was unconstitutional. The ruling followed a case filed by members of the Polish Parliament and formally supported by the Prosecutor General. The ruling came into force on 27 January 2021. Both the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission have found that the Constitutional Tribunal does not meet fair trial requirements due to its lack of independence from the legislative and the executive powers. The ruling eliminated one of the only remaining legal grounds for abortion under Poland’s highly restrictive law and its entry into force means that there is now effectively a near-total ban on abortion in Poland. Previously, over 90 percent of the approximately 1,000 legal abortions annually performed in Poland were on this ground. The ruling came as the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions made travel for abortion care prohibitively difficult and costly. It  spurred the country’s largest public protests in decades, led by women human rights defenders. Activists and women’s rights organizations report that the ruling is having a significant chilling effect as medical professionals fear repercussions even in situations where abortion remains legal. Women human rights defenders and civil society organizations advocating for the ruling to be overturned and for reform of Poland’s abortion law have faced threats of violence and several protestors have been prosecuted.   Read the third-party submissions here. For more information about the cases filed by 12 Polish women see: K.B. v. Poland and 3 other applications K.C. v. Poland and 3 other applications A.L.- B. v. Poland and 3 other applications   For more information on the developments following the Tribunal’s ruling see e.g.: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_7070   For more information, please contact: For the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network, Irene Donadio: [email protected], +32 491 71 93 90, Twitter: @ippfen

MEPs Poland support
news_item

| 26 January 2022

Regression on Abortion Access Harms Women in Poland

26 January 2022 – One year after the ruling of Poland’s discredited Constitutional Tribunal banning access to abortion in almost all circumstances took effect, its devastating impact on the lives of women and all those in need of abortion care continues. The ruling has increased the extreme barriers women seeking access to abortion face and has had tragic consequences for many of them and their families. Since the ruling took effect on 27 January 2021, more than 1000 women have turned to the European Court of Human Rights in an effort to vindicate their rights, challenging Poland’s highly restrictive abortion law and seeking justice. These groundbreaking cases mark the first direct challenges to be filed before the European Court against Poland’s abortion law and the 2020 Constitutional Tribunal ruling. The applicants claim that the Polish abortion law causes them grave harm and violates their rights to privacy and freedom from torture and other ill-treatment. The Court is expected to begin ruling on some of these cases: K.B. v. Poland and 3 other applications; K.C. v. Poland and 3 other applications; and A.L.- B. v. Poland and 3 other applications. Nine leading international human rights organizations have filed third-party interventions to the European Court of Human Rights in these cases, including Amnesty International, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network (IPPF EN), Women Enabled International, Women’s Link Worldwide, and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The interventions provide evidence and analysis drawing on international human rights law, comparative European law and guidelines from the World Health Organization. They outline the profound implications that highly restrictive abortion laws have on the lives and health of women and girls of reproductive age.   Restrictive abortion laws such as Poland’s are contrary to international and European human rights standards and public health guidelines. They compromise women’s freedom, dignity, health, and lives. Our organizations’ interventions seek to highlight critical human rights aspects of such restrictive laws, and we are proud to support efforts to hold Poland accountable for these ongoing human rights violations, the organizations said.      Background Poland has one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws. Together with Malta, it is one of only two European Union Member States that has not legalized abortion on request or broad social grounds. In Poland, abortion is only permitted in situations of risk to the life or health of a pregnant woman, or if a pregnancy results from rape. In practice, however, it is almost impossible for those eligible for a legal abortion to obtain one. Every year thousands of women leave Poland to access abortion care in other European countries, while others import medical abortion pills or seek extra-legal abortion in Poland. Polish women, particularly those in difficult socio-economic situations, have to depend on the crucial help from civil society organizations, with often limited resources. On 22 October 2020, Poland’s discredited Constitutional Tribunal ruled that abortion on grounds of “severe and irreversible fetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the fetus’ life” was unconstitutional. The ruling followed a case filed by members of the Polish Parliament and formally supported by the Prosecutor General. The ruling came into force on 27 January 2021. Both the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission have found that the Constitutional Tribunal does not meet fair trial requirements due to its lack of independence from the legislative and the executive powers. The ruling eliminated one of the only remaining legal grounds for abortion under Poland’s highly restrictive law and its entry into force means that there is now effectively a near-total ban on abortion in Poland. Previously, over 90 percent of the approximately 1,000 legal abortions annually performed in Poland were on this ground. The ruling came as the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions made travel for abortion care prohibitively difficult and costly. It  spurred the country’s largest public protests in decades, led by women human rights defenders. Activists and women’s rights organizations report that the ruling is having a significant chilling effect as medical professionals fear repercussions even in situations where abortion remains legal. Women human rights defenders and civil society organizations advocating for the ruling to be overturned and for reform of Poland’s abortion law have faced threats of violence and several protestors have been prosecuted.   Read the third-party submissions here. For more information about the cases filed by 12 Polish women see: K.B. v. Poland and 3 other applications K.C. v. Poland and 3 other applications A.L.- B. v. Poland and 3 other applications   For more information on the developments following the Tribunal’s ruling see e.g.: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_7070   For more information, please contact: For the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network, Irene Donadio: [email protected], +32 491 71 93 90, Twitter: @ippfen

IPPF EN brochure
news item

| 12 January 2022

IPPF EN cares - 2020 impact

IPPF EN cares for people in all their diversity across Europe and recognises their right to lead safe and dignified reproductive lives, free from harm and discrimination.  This page summarizes progress made by IPPF to achieve our Strategic Framework 2016-2022 so that everyone can realize their sexual and reproductive health and rights. The COVID‑19 pandemic caused significant disruption to frontline services and advocacy efforts. But IPPF Member Associations (MAs) have shown extraordinary resilience, advocating with their governments for the inclusion of sexual and reproductive health as essential healthcare. Several played a critical role in influencing policy changes to sustain access to services. These included approval of telemedicine, online consultations, home use of medical abortion, and the provision of online relationship and sexuality education (RSE). MAs also adapted their service delivery models.

IPPF EN brochure
news_item

| 12 January 2022

IPPF EN cares - 2020 impact

IPPF EN cares for people in all their diversity across Europe and recognises their right to lead safe and dignified reproductive lives, free from harm and discrimination.  This page summarizes progress made by IPPF to achieve our Strategic Framework 2016-2022 so that everyone can realize their sexual and reproductive health and rights. The COVID‑19 pandemic caused significant disruption to frontline services and advocacy efforts. But IPPF Member Associations (MAs) have shown extraordinary resilience, advocating with their governments for the inclusion of sexual and reproductive health as essential healthcare. Several played a critical role in influencing policy changes to sustain access to services. These included approval of telemedicine, online consultations, home use of medical abortion, and the provision of online relationship and sexuality education (RSE). MAs also adapted their service delivery models.

Poland
news item

| 06 January 2022

Polish Parliament votes on anti-rights bills

Reaction to vote to establish the Polish Institute of Family and Demography IPPF EN is appalled to learn that the lower chamber of the Polish parliament has today given the green light to establish the Polish Institute of Family and Demography. This seemingly innocuous initiative is anything but. It would allow for increased and unnecessary data processing on people’s reproductive health and expanded interference by the state in people’s family lives.  Prosecutorial powers would be granted to the Institute’s President, allowing them to interfere in or initiate court and administrative proceedings that fall under the scope of family or children’s rights, such as parental or adoption rights. Polish activists fear this could be used against LGBTQI families by allowing the President to apply for the removal of parental rights from LGBT parents, for example. One look at the track-record of the current presidential-hopeful indicates this fear may be founded: it is Bartłomiej Wróblewski, a PiS MP who submitted the motion to Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal that led to the virtual ban on abortion.  The Institute would also be invested with expanded data-processing powers. It would be allowed to “process any information, including personal data, necessary for the performance of its statutory tasks,” although particular attention would be paid to data on marriage and fertility. Again, activists fear that this is an attempt to introduce a system of surveillance on people’s private lives, particularly as it coincides with a recent initiative by the Health Ministry to establish a pregnancy registry, which expands data-gathering on pregnant people. If deemed ‘necessary’ by the Institute, it could process data on pregnancies, contraceptive access, emergency contraception and pregnancy loss. Activists point to how the latter has been used with devastating effect against women in countries with draconian abortion laws, where women who have suffered miscarriage are accused of accessing abortion, and prosecuted. 

Poland
news_item

| 02 December 2021

Polish Parliament votes on anti-rights bills

Reaction to vote to establish the Polish Institute of Family and Demography IPPF EN is appalled to learn that the lower chamber of the Polish parliament has today given the green light to establish the Polish Institute of Family and Demography. This seemingly innocuous initiative is anything but. It would allow for increased and unnecessary data processing on people’s reproductive health and expanded interference by the state in people’s family lives.  Prosecutorial powers would be granted to the Institute’s President, allowing them to interfere in or initiate court and administrative proceedings that fall under the scope of family or children’s rights, such as parental or adoption rights. Polish activists fear this could be used against LGBTQI families by allowing the President to apply for the removal of parental rights from LGBT parents, for example. One look at the track-record of the current presidential-hopeful indicates this fear may be founded: it is Bartłomiej Wróblewski, a PiS MP who submitted the motion to Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal that led to the virtual ban on abortion.  The Institute would also be invested with expanded data-processing powers. It would be allowed to “process any information, including personal data, necessary for the performance of its statutory tasks,” although particular attention would be paid to data on marriage and fertility. Again, activists fear that this is an attempt to introduce a system of surveillance on people’s private lives, particularly as it coincides with a recent initiative by the Health Ministry to establish a pregnancy registry, which expands data-gathering on pregnant people. If deemed ‘necessary’ by the Institute, it could process data on pregnancies, contraceptive access, emergency contraception and pregnancy loss. Activists point to how the latter has been used with devastating effect against women in countries with draconian abortion laws, where women who have suffered miscarriage are accused of accessing abortion, and prosecuted. 

Polish flag
news item

| 08 March 2022

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

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.  A 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.

Polish flag
news_item

| 29 November 2021

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

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.  A 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.

EP Poland
news item

| 08 March 2022

Poland: A Year On, Abortion Ruling Harms Women

(Brussels, October 19, 2021) – Women, girls, and all pregnant people have faced extreme barriers to accessing legal abortions in the year since a Constitutional Tribunal ruling virtually banned legal abortion in Poland, 14 human rights organizations said today. Since the ruling, women human rights defenders have also faced an increasingly hostile and dangerous environment. Poland’s authorities should end efforts to undermine reproductive rights and weaken protections from gender-based violence. They should commit to protecting women human rights defenders who have faced ongoing threats and attacks since the October 2020 decision. Escalating death threats since October 9 against Marta Lempart, co-founder of Ognopolski Strajk Kobiet (All-Poland Women’s Strike) and a target of repeated threats for leading demonstrations supporting legal abortion and women’s rights, led to her police protection during public appearances. “The Constitutional Tribunal ruling is causing incalculable harm to women and girls – especially those who are poor, live in rural areas, or are marginalized,” said Urszula Grycuk, international advocacy coordinator at the Federation for Women and Family Planning (Federa) in Poland. “The dignity, freedom and health of pregnant people are compromised because their own government is denying them access to essential reproductive health care.” The organizations are Abortion Support Network, Amnesty International, the Center for Reproductive Rights, CIVICUS, Federa, FOKUS, Human Rights Watch, International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), International Planned Parenthood Federation-European Network, MSI Reproductive Choices, Le Planning Familial, Riksförbundet för sexuell upplysning/The Swedish Association for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, and Strajk Kobiet/Women’s Strike. Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, whose independence and legitimacy is profoundly eroded, is widely acknowledged as politically compromised. On October 22, 2020, it ruled that abortion on grounds of “severe and irreversible fetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the fetus’ life” was unconstitutional. The government brought the case to the tribunal after parliament failed to adopt legislation with the same effect. The ruling came into force on January 27, 2021. This eliminated one of the few legal grounds for abortion under Poland’s highly restrictive law. Previously, over 90 percent of the approximately 1,000 legal abortions annually in Poland were on these grounds. The ruling came as Covid-19 pandemic restrictions made travel for health care prohibitively difficult and costly. The ruling spurred the country’s largest public protests in decades, led by women human rights defenders. Activists and women’s rights groups reported that the ruling had a significant chilling effect as people seeking abortions and medical professionals feared repercussions. Abortion Without Borders, which aids women in European countries where abortion is illegal or access is highly restricted, reported that 17,000 women in Poland contacted them in the six months after the ruling for help accessing abortion, and that they continue to receive about 800 calls a month. Federa, a Polish reproductive health and rights organization, reported conducting approximately 8,100 consultations in the 11 months after the ruling, 3 times as many as during the same period in previous years. This included calls to its helpline and over 5,000 emails concerning access to abortion and other sexual and reproductive health services. Since the Law and Justice party came to power in 2015, Poland’s government has repeatedly moved to further curb sexual and reproductive health and rights, including by supporting a 2016 draft bill for a total abortion ban that parliament rejected following mass public protest. The government also supported a draft bill, introduced by an ultra-conservative group, to essentially criminalize comprehensive sexuality education. The bill has been in committee since April 2020. These bills are “civic initiatives,” which require public signatures to be considered. In September 2021, the same group introduced a new civic initiative “Stop Abortion” bill to parliament. It would consider abortion at any stage a homicide and would bring criminal penalties against women who have abortions, and anyone who assists them, with punishment of up to 25 years in prison. The bill is backed by Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture, an ultra-conservative, anti-choice, and anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) group. Women’s rights organizations and parliament members of the opposition Lewica party are collecting signatures for a civic initiative bill, “Legal Abortion Without Compromise,” which would permit abortion without restriction as to reason up to the twelfth week of pregnancy. It would permit abortion after 12 weeks in cases of risk to the person’s mental or physical health, a non-viable pregnancy, or pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. Evidence consistently demonstrates that laws restricting or criminalizing abortion do not eliminate it, but rather drive people to seek abortion through means that may put their mental and physical health at risk and diminish their autonomy and dignity. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has said that as part of the obligation to protect the right to life of pregnant people, states should not apply criminal sanctions against anyone undergoing abortion or medical service providers assisting them. In July, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) announced that it will address complaints from Polish women who may be victims of violations of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms due to the Constitutional Tribunal’s abortion ruling. Poland’s government has failed to effectively implement previous ECtHR judgments concerning access to lawful abortion despite repeated calls and a March judgment by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The Law and Justice government has also targeted women’s rights organizations and activists. Activists said that government rhetoric and media campaigns smearing them and their work foster misinformation and hate that can put their safety at risk. Several women’s rights defenders were detained or face what they describe as politically motivated criminal charges for actions during protests following the Constitutional Tribunal’s abortion ruling. Activists received multiple bomb and death threats in February and March for their support of reproductive rights but said that, in many cases, police minimized the security risks and either did not open investigations or failed to pursue them effectively. No one has been held accountable for these threats. Police launched investigations and arrested one man in connection with online death threats to Lempart ahead of her planned appearance at a protest on October 11, and are now providing her protection at public events. The government has undermined efforts to combat gender-based violence, including by initiating Poland’s withdrawal from a landmark European convention on violence against women, the Istanbul Convention. The government referred the convention to the politically compromised Constitutional Tribunal for review due to its definition of “gender.” Campaigns against gender equality have been used to target women’s and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex rights and those who support them. “Extreme restrictions on abortion are part of a broader assault by Poland’s government on human rights, including women’s rights and LGBTI rights, and the rule of law,” said Marta Lempart, co-founder of Strajk Kobiet. “It should alarm all Europeans that this is happening in their own backyard, even as European governments claim to be leaders on women’s rights and democratic values.” The anti-abortion ruling’s anniversary comes amid increasing tensions between Poland’s government and the European Union after an October 7 Constitutional Tribunal ruling rejecting the binding nature of EU law. It followed a series of EU Court of Justice rulings that the Polish government’s weakening of judicial independence breaches EU law. The European Commission said it “will not hesitate to make use of its powers” under EU treaties to ensure application of EU law and protect people’s rights. Poland’s government should reverse restrictions on reproductive rights and ensure that these rights are upheld in accordance with international law, including the right to access safe abortion. It should cease attacks on women’s rights and women human rights defenders and end moves to undermine the rule of law, democracy, and human rights. The European Commission and EU member states should urgently address rule of law breaches and their impact on women’s human rights, including reproductive rights, in Poland. The European Commission should trigger legal infringement proceedings for Polish authorities’ use of a politically compromised Constitutional Tribunal to erode the rights of people in Poland and undermine democratic checks and balances, in blatant violation of the EU Treaties. The Commission and EU member states should act to protect and support women’s rights defenders and organizations in Poland. Member states should actively support people in Poland seeking access to abortion. The Commission should urgently implement the mechanism tying access to EU funds to respect for EU values and continue its commitment to tie EU Recovery Funds to rule of law guarantees. EU member states should advance and expand scrutiny under Article 7.1 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) by adopting specific recommendations or voting to determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach of EU values in Poland, as has been called for also by European Parliament. “Despite fear and repercussions, people in Poland are fighting every day to protect rights that everyone in the EU should be able to exercise freely, including access to safe abortion,” said Hillary Margolis, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Women’s rights are on a precipice in Poland, and unless the European Commission and Council act to defend democratic values, more and more women and girls will suffer the consequences.” Press Contact: International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network, in Brussels, Irene Donadio (English, Italian): +32-491-071-93-90; or [email protected] Twitter: @ippfen

EP Poland
news_item

| 19 October 2021

Poland: A Year On, Abortion Ruling Harms Women

(Brussels, October 19, 2021) – Women, girls, and all pregnant people have faced extreme barriers to accessing legal abortions in the year since a Constitutional Tribunal ruling virtually banned legal abortion in Poland, 14 human rights organizations said today. Since the ruling, women human rights defenders have also faced an increasingly hostile and dangerous environment. Poland’s authorities should end efforts to undermine reproductive rights and weaken protections from gender-based violence. They should commit to protecting women human rights defenders who have faced ongoing threats and attacks since the October 2020 decision. Escalating death threats since October 9 against Marta Lempart, co-founder of Ognopolski Strajk Kobiet (All-Poland Women’s Strike) and a target of repeated threats for leading demonstrations supporting legal abortion and women’s rights, led to her police protection during public appearances. “The Constitutional Tribunal ruling is causing incalculable harm to women and girls – especially those who are poor, live in rural areas, or are marginalized,” said Urszula Grycuk, international advocacy coordinator at the Federation for Women and Family Planning (Federa) in Poland. “The dignity, freedom and health of pregnant people are compromised because their own government is denying them access to essential reproductive health care.” The organizations are Abortion Support Network, Amnesty International, the Center for Reproductive Rights, CIVICUS, Federa, FOKUS, Human Rights Watch, International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), International Planned Parenthood Federation-European Network, MSI Reproductive Choices, Le Planning Familial, Riksförbundet för sexuell upplysning/The Swedish Association for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, and Strajk Kobiet/Women’s Strike. Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, whose independence and legitimacy is profoundly eroded, is widely acknowledged as politically compromised. On October 22, 2020, it ruled that abortion on grounds of “severe and irreversible fetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the fetus’ life” was unconstitutional. The government brought the case to the tribunal after parliament failed to adopt legislation with the same effect. The ruling came into force on January 27, 2021. This eliminated one of the few legal grounds for abortion under Poland’s highly restrictive law. Previously, over 90 percent of the approximately 1,000 legal abortions annually in Poland were on these grounds. The ruling came as Covid-19 pandemic restrictions made travel for health care prohibitively difficult and costly. The ruling spurred the country’s largest public protests in decades, led by women human rights defenders. Activists and women’s rights groups reported that the ruling had a significant chilling effect as people seeking abortions and medical professionals feared repercussions. Abortion Without Borders, which aids women in European countries where abortion is illegal or access is highly restricted, reported that 17,000 women in Poland contacted them in the six months after the ruling for help accessing abortion, and that they continue to receive about 800 calls a month. Federa, a Polish reproductive health and rights organization, reported conducting approximately 8,100 consultations in the 11 months after the ruling, 3 times as many as during the same period in previous years. This included calls to its helpline and over 5,000 emails concerning access to abortion and other sexual and reproductive health services. Since the Law and Justice party came to power in 2015, Poland’s government has repeatedly moved to further curb sexual and reproductive health and rights, including by supporting a 2016 draft bill for a total abortion ban that parliament rejected following mass public protest. The government also supported a draft bill, introduced by an ultra-conservative group, to essentially criminalize comprehensive sexuality education. The bill has been in committee since April 2020. These bills are “civic initiatives,” which require public signatures to be considered. In September 2021, the same group introduced a new civic initiative “Stop Abortion” bill to parliament. It would consider abortion at any stage a homicide and would bring criminal penalties against women who have abortions, and anyone who assists them, with punishment of up to 25 years in prison. The bill is backed by Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture, an ultra-conservative, anti-choice, and anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) group. Women’s rights organizations and parliament members of the opposition Lewica party are collecting signatures for a civic initiative bill, “Legal Abortion Without Compromise,” which would permit abortion without restriction as to reason up to the twelfth week of pregnancy. It would permit abortion after 12 weeks in cases of risk to the person’s mental or physical health, a non-viable pregnancy, or pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. Evidence consistently demonstrates that laws restricting or criminalizing abortion do not eliminate it, but rather drive people to seek abortion through means that may put their mental and physical health at risk and diminish their autonomy and dignity. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has said that as part of the obligation to protect the right to life of pregnant people, states should not apply criminal sanctions against anyone undergoing abortion or medical service providers assisting them. In July, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) announced that it will address complaints from Polish women who may be victims of violations of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms due to the Constitutional Tribunal’s abortion ruling. Poland’s government has failed to effectively implement previous ECtHR judgments concerning access to lawful abortion despite repeated calls and a March judgment by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The Law and Justice government has also targeted women’s rights organizations and activists. Activists said that government rhetoric and media campaigns smearing them and their work foster misinformation and hate that can put their safety at risk. Several women’s rights defenders were detained or face what they describe as politically motivated criminal charges for actions during protests following the Constitutional Tribunal’s abortion ruling. Activists received multiple bomb and death threats in February and March for their support of reproductive rights but said that, in many cases, police minimized the security risks and either did not open investigations or failed to pursue them effectively. No one has been held accountable for these threats. Police launched investigations and arrested one man in connection with online death threats to Lempart ahead of her planned appearance at a protest on October 11, and are now providing her protection at public events. The government has undermined efforts to combat gender-based violence, including by initiating Poland’s withdrawal from a landmark European convention on violence against women, the Istanbul Convention. The government referred the convention to the politically compromised Constitutional Tribunal for review due to its definition of “gender.” Campaigns against gender equality have been used to target women’s and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex rights and those who support them. “Extreme restrictions on abortion are part of a broader assault by Poland’s government on human rights, including women’s rights and LGBTI rights, and the rule of law,” said Marta Lempart, co-founder of Strajk Kobiet. “It should alarm all Europeans that this is happening in their own backyard, even as European governments claim to be leaders on women’s rights and democratic values.” The anti-abortion ruling’s anniversary comes amid increasing tensions between Poland’s government and the European Union after an October 7 Constitutional Tribunal ruling rejecting the binding nature of EU law. It followed a series of EU Court of Justice rulings that the Polish government’s weakening of judicial independence breaches EU law. The European Commission said it “will not hesitate to make use of its powers” under EU treaties to ensure application of EU law and protect people’s rights. Poland’s government should reverse restrictions on reproductive rights and ensure that these rights are upheld in accordance with international law, including the right to access safe abortion. It should cease attacks on women’s rights and women human rights defenders and end moves to undermine the rule of law, democracy, and human rights. The European Commission and EU member states should urgently address rule of law breaches and their impact on women’s human rights, including reproductive rights, in Poland. The European Commission should trigger legal infringement proceedings for Polish authorities’ use of a politically compromised Constitutional Tribunal to erode the rights of people in Poland and undermine democratic checks and balances, in blatant violation of the EU Treaties. The Commission and EU member states should act to protect and support women’s rights defenders and organizations in Poland. Member states should actively support people in Poland seeking access to abortion. The Commission should urgently implement the mechanism tying access to EU funds to respect for EU values and continue its commitment to tie EU Recovery Funds to rule of law guarantees. EU member states should advance and expand scrutiny under Article 7.1 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) by adopting specific recommendations or voting to determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach of EU values in Poland, as has been called for also by European Parliament. “Despite fear and repercussions, people in Poland are fighting every day to protect rights that everyone in the EU should be able to exercise freely, including access to safe abortion,” said Hillary Margolis, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Women’s rights are on a precipice in Poland, and unless the European Commission and Council act to defend democratic values, more and more women and girls will suffer the consequences.” Press Contact: International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network, in Brussels, Irene Donadio (English, Italian): +32-491-071-93-90; or [email protected] Twitter: @ippfen