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Latest news from IPPF EN
Poland abortion protest
news item

| 28 October 2020

Polish government must refrain from repressing peaceful protesters (statement)

Press statement 28 October, IPPF EN and CIVICUS Polish law enforcement and military which is being deployed today, must refrain from using excessive force against peaceful protesters who have taken to the streets around the country to express their discontent with the Polish government under the ruling PiS (Law and Justice) party.   Protests were prompted by the decision of the Constitutional Tribunal, to impose a near ban on abortion on 22nd October. The protests are currently in their seventh day and have drawn support from a wide variety of people, including miners, taxi drivers, farmers and trade unions. CIVICUS and IPPF EN are concerned that these peaceful protests are being met with excessive force and violence from law enforcement officials and far-right groups. Footage documented by activists and journalists on social media show police using teargas, pepper spray and physically assaulting protesters. This is contrary to standards set out in international human rights law and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which guarantees the right to peaceful assembly. In addition, the Prime Minister’s announcement that the military will be sent to the streets on 28th October (today), officially for COVID-19 reasons, is worrying given that UN standards indicate that the military should not be used to police assemblies. It is unacceptable that the Polish government is using COVID-19 as a pretence to repress peaceful protests. The Polish government has already been strongly criticised for using the pandemic to consolidate power and gag opposition, and it has previously done nothing to punish violence against peaceful demonstrations by far-right groups. “Tens of thousands of people are currently taking to the streets of Poland to demand fundamental human rights amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of protecting protesters, the authorities have used tear gas, pepper spray and physical assault. The deployment of the military adds to the concern that violence against protesters may escalate as protests continue to grow,” said Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS “We are gravely concerned about the safety of women in Poland. The ruling of this tribunal has trampled upon their rights and freedoms and now their protests are being stifled by the police and army. Citizens cannot be bullied. We ask the European Union to stand firm against the erosion of civil liberties and show solidarity with defenders of fundamental rights in Poland,” said Irene Donadio, Senior Lead for Strategy and Partnerships at IPPF EN.  We urge the Polish government to end restrictions on peaceful protesters. We also call on EU leaders to condemn attacks and violence perpetrated by the authorities and non-state actors.   Notes to Editors: CIVICUS report: https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2020/10/28/thousands-protest-constitutional-tribunal-imposes-near-ban-abortion/ Joint CIVICUS/IPPF EN letter sent to EU institutions : https://www.ippfen.org/news/poland-concerns-over-use-excessive-force-against-peaceful-protesters   Press contacts: CIVICUS: [email protected] IPPF EN: Irene Donadio - [email protected], +32 491 71 93 90 Photo credit: Spacerowiczka.

Poland abortion protest
news_item

| 28 October 2020

Polish government must refrain from repressing peaceful protesters (statement)

Press statement 28 October, IPPF EN and CIVICUS Polish law enforcement and military which is being deployed today, must refrain from using excessive force against peaceful protesters who have taken to the streets around the country to express their discontent with the Polish government under the ruling PiS (Law and Justice) party.   Protests were prompted by the decision of the Constitutional Tribunal, to impose a near ban on abortion on 22nd October. The protests are currently in their seventh day and have drawn support from a wide variety of people, including miners, taxi drivers, farmers and trade unions. CIVICUS and IPPF EN are concerned that these peaceful protests are being met with excessive force and violence from law enforcement officials and far-right groups. Footage documented by activists and journalists on social media show police using teargas, pepper spray and physically assaulting protesters. This is contrary to standards set out in international human rights law and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which guarantees the right to peaceful assembly. In addition, the Prime Minister’s announcement that the military will be sent to the streets on 28th October (today), officially for COVID-19 reasons, is worrying given that UN standards indicate that the military should not be used to police assemblies. It is unacceptable that the Polish government is using COVID-19 as a pretence to repress peaceful protests. The Polish government has already been strongly criticised for using the pandemic to consolidate power and gag opposition, and it has previously done nothing to punish violence against peaceful demonstrations by far-right groups. “Tens of thousands of people are currently taking to the streets of Poland to demand fundamental human rights amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of protecting protesters, the authorities have used tear gas, pepper spray and physical assault. The deployment of the military adds to the concern that violence against protesters may escalate as protests continue to grow,” said Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS “We are gravely concerned about the safety of women in Poland. The ruling of this tribunal has trampled upon their rights and freedoms and now their protests are being stifled by the police and army. Citizens cannot be bullied. We ask the European Union to stand firm against the erosion of civil liberties and show solidarity with defenders of fundamental rights in Poland,” said Irene Donadio, Senior Lead for Strategy and Partnerships at IPPF EN.  We urge the Polish government to end restrictions on peaceful protesters. We also call on EU leaders to condemn attacks and violence perpetrated by the authorities and non-state actors.   Notes to Editors: CIVICUS report: https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2020/10/28/thousands-protest-constitutional-tribunal-imposes-near-ban-abortion/ Joint CIVICUS/IPPF EN letter sent to EU institutions : https://www.ippfen.org/news/poland-concerns-over-use-excessive-force-against-peaceful-protesters   Press contacts: CIVICUS: [email protected] IPPF EN: Irene Donadio - [email protected], +32 491 71 93 90 Photo credit: Spacerowiczka.

Poland abortion ban
news item

| 22 October 2020

Polish abortion ban will devastate women’s lives, in first major attack on human rights resulting from erosion of Rule of Law (statement)

On 22 October, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the country’s abortion law is unconstitutional, specifically striking down the possibility for women to access abortion care on the ground of severe foetal impairment. This cruel, regressive move has been made possible by the ruling PiS party’s deliberate erosion of the rule of law and democratic values in the country, and its placement of politically appointed judges into a body that, when carrying out its legitimate duty, is responsible precisely for upholding the rule of law. The ruling is just the first concrete manifestation of how the current situation in Poland enables PiS to violate human rights. Today’s decision automatically removes the only ground on which Polish women have still been able to access abortion care in practice, when they needed it for therapeutic reasons. The result will be agonising for women and their families, forcing some to continue through pregnancies against their will, including in cases of fatal or severe foetal impairment, while others will have no choice but to travel abroad to seek care if they have the financial means to do so, or to seek underground abortions. This decision will needlessly increase the suffering of women already facing very difficult situations. Such inhumane and degrading treatment has been described by the European Court of Human Rights as tantamount to torturing women. This act of reproductive coercion is in line with the agenda of Poland’s ruling PiS party, which continues zealously to mount attacks against women’s reproductive rights and freedom. Public opinion in Poland does not support a ban on women’s access to abortion care. The European Commission has already expressed serious concerns regarding breaches of the rule of law in Poland, and has proposed to make EU funding to Member States conditional on respect for this EU value. “On this sad day, as we mourn the extinguishing of Polish women’s remaining sliver of access to abortion care, we call on EU Member States to back this measure aimed at protecting EU values, and to strongly condemn such blatant violations of human rights in Europe. Today’s decision in Poland is a stark illustration of what ordinary people stand to lose,” said IPPF EN’s Irene Donadio. In addition to marking a devastating day for women’s safety in Poland, 22 October may also see reproductive bullies mark their hatred for women and LGBTI people at the international level. Regressive governments from around the world, including Poland and Hungary, will sign a farcical Trump-led document with no legal basis, with which they attempt to defy international consensus in support of sexual and reproductive health and rights. Today may also be the day that the United States confirm Amy Coney Barrett, known for her anti-abortion views, to the Supreme Court.   Photo credit: Katarzyna Pierzchała - Obywatel KP Fotograf

Poland abortion ban
news_item

| 22 October 2020

Polish abortion ban will devastate women’s lives, in first major attack on human rights resulting from erosion of Rule of Law (statement)

On 22 October, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the country’s abortion law is unconstitutional, specifically striking down the possibility for women to access abortion care on the ground of severe foetal impairment. This cruel, regressive move has been made possible by the ruling PiS party’s deliberate erosion of the rule of law and democratic values in the country, and its placement of politically appointed judges into a body that, when carrying out its legitimate duty, is responsible precisely for upholding the rule of law. The ruling is just the first concrete manifestation of how the current situation in Poland enables PiS to violate human rights. Today’s decision automatically removes the only ground on which Polish women have still been able to access abortion care in practice, when they needed it for therapeutic reasons. The result will be agonising for women and their families, forcing some to continue through pregnancies against their will, including in cases of fatal or severe foetal impairment, while others will have no choice but to travel abroad to seek care if they have the financial means to do so, or to seek underground abortions. This decision will needlessly increase the suffering of women already facing very difficult situations. Such inhumane and degrading treatment has been described by the European Court of Human Rights as tantamount to torturing women. This act of reproductive coercion is in line with the agenda of Poland’s ruling PiS party, which continues zealously to mount attacks against women’s reproductive rights and freedom. Public opinion in Poland does not support a ban on women’s access to abortion care. The European Commission has already expressed serious concerns regarding breaches of the rule of law in Poland, and has proposed to make EU funding to Member States conditional on respect for this EU value. “On this sad day, as we mourn the extinguishing of Polish women’s remaining sliver of access to abortion care, we call on EU Member States to back this measure aimed at protecting EU values, and to strongly condemn such blatant violations of human rights in Europe. Today’s decision in Poland is a stark illustration of what ordinary people stand to lose,” said IPPF EN’s Irene Donadio. In addition to marking a devastating day for women’s safety in Poland, 22 October may also see reproductive bullies mark their hatred for women and LGBTI people at the international level. Regressive governments from around the world, including Poland and Hungary, will sign a farcical Trump-led document with no legal basis, with which they attempt to defy international consensus in support of sexual and reproductive health and rights. Today may also be the day that the United States confirm Amy Coney Barrett, known for her anti-abortion views, to the Supreme Court.   Photo credit: Katarzyna Pierzchała - Obywatel KP Fotograf

Poland protest during COVID-19
news item

| 16 October 2020

Serious breaches of rule of law in Poland pave way for extensive abuse of human rights (statement)

21 October update (original press release from 16 October below) Ahead of the decision of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal on the constitutionality of the abortion law, due on 22 October, ruling party PiS has continued its assault on the Rule of Law. On 20 October, it was announced that Ombudsman Adam Bodnar, a long-standing champion of human rights, was to be dismissed with use of the Constitutional Tribunal. The trial was finally cancelled just before it was due to take place. Two Supreme Court judges - Irena Majcher and Igor Tuleya - have also come under attack this week and will possibly be stripped of judicial immunity and charged. These latest moves illustrate the aggressive anti-democratic agenda of PiS, as it prepares during a global pandemic to increase its stranglehold on women’s human rights. Polish Women’s Strike activists have demonstrated their opposition to the anticipated outcome of Thursday’s decision, taking to the streets yet again in cars to protest against this latest attempt to devastate the lives of women and their families.  Meanwhile, a new survey published this week by the European Parliament demonstrates that European citizens believe EU funding to Member States should be conditional on national governments upholding the rule of law. This sends a strong signal to EU leaders that there is public support for a robust approach to ensuring no government can get away with flouting the rule of law and democratic values. Press contact: Irene Donadio - +32 (0)491 719 390 __________________________________________   Press release 16 October 2020 - On 22 October, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal will rule on the constitutionality of the country’s abortion law1. IPPF European Network is deeply concerned that this ruling will be the first concrete manifestation of the serious threat to Polish citizens’ lives that is posed by the collapse of the rule of law in their country2. Specifically, the forthcoming ruling concerns the possibility for women to access abortion care on the ground of severe foetal impairment. The Tribunal is expected to rule in line with the ruling party PiS, and declare the provision unconstitutional. IPPF EN fears that due to the deliberate politicisation of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, the ruling on 22 October may be just the first in a series of possible extensive human rights violations. On this occasion, the Tribunal will target women’s health and safety3. Shortly afterwards, it will decide over the fate of survivors of domestic violence when it assesses the constitutionality of the Istanbul Convention. After that, the systemic erosion of the rule of law means that there is nothing to stop it attacking the human rights of other vulnerable groups, including LGBTI people and migrants4. The European Commission has bravely tried to put a stop to the Polish government’s attacks against the basic democratic principle of separation of executive and judicial powers. Unfortunately, it has not so far been successful in halting this erosion. Fundamental EU values of human rights, human dignity, equality and non-discrimination are at stake. Developments in Poland set a terrible precedent that may encourage other illiberal governments to take similar steps. IPPF EN’s Irene Donadio said: “We cannot allow this to happen on our watch. The ruling on 22 October poses a great danger, not only for desperate women in Poland in need of protection and care when facing a tragic private health crisis, but for society as a whole. This ruling is the first step in a long dark march towards the oppression of ordinary people. We call on EU leaders and citizens to protest and support the European Commission’s efforts to defend the rule of law in Poland.” 1. Act on Family Planning, the Protection of the Human Fetus, and the Conditions of Admissibility of Abortion of 1993 (1993 Family Planning Act), Article 4a § 1 pt. 2. The Constitutional Tribunal will assess compliance of the relevant provisions with Art. 30 of the Constitution (right to dignity of a person); then with Art. 38 (protection of life), Art. 31§3 (grounds for limiting freedom), Art. 32 (prohibition of discrimination), Art. 2 (social justice) and Art. 42 (criminal liability) .  2. The Polish government’s reforms to the judiciary since 2015 have raised serious concerns regarding respect for the rule of law, and led the Commission to launch the procedure under Article 7(1) TEU in 2017, and several infringement procedures in the past years. As rightly noted by the European Commission in its first Annual Report on the matter, “concerns over the independence and legitimacy of the Constitutional Tribunal, raised by the Commission under the Article 7(1) TEU procedure, have so far not been resolved.” The Venice Commission has noted that changes to procedures for judicial appointments and the operations of the Constitutional Tribunal have undermined its independence and rendered its work ineffective, including due to excessive executive and legislative control of the Tribunal’s operations. Almost all judges sitting on the Constitutional Tribunal now have strong links with the ruling party PiS and were nominated purely for political purposes, while legitimate Constitutional judges that would not conform have been removed. The assessment requested for the ruling on October 22 was submitted by a group of Members of Parliament in December 2019, including from PiS, the ruling party and was only placed on the agenda of the Tribunal after it was approved by the government. Such a takeover of a Constitutional Tribunal is unprecedented in Europe. 3. Poland already has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the EU. Abortion is only permitted on very limited grounds, including in cases of “severe and irreversible foetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the foetus’s life”. The removal of this ground would virtually ban all access to abortion care, violating Polish women’s human rights to life, health, and dignity, and causing immense suffering to women and their families. In practice, if the Constitutional Tribunal rules that this ground is unconstitutional, women will either be forced to give birth against their will, in a country that offers very little care and support to family and people with disabilities, or to undergo unsafe or illegal abortion procedures, especially for those who cannot afford to travel abroad. By removing this ground, Poland would further breach numerous commitments it has made to uphold and protect human rights. 4. The forthcoming ruling takes place in a broader context of repeated, retrogressive attempts by Poland’s ruling party to roll back on reproductive rights, women’s human rights and LGBTI rights. In July 2020, Poland announced its intention to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, and asked the Constitutional Tribunal to rule on its constitutionality. Poland has also repeatedly infringed on LGBTI rights, which has been denounced by the European Commission and led to the withholding of EU funds from certain Polish cities (Annual Rule of Law Report; European Commission President von der Leyen State of the Union Address).  

Poland protest during COVID-19
news_item

| 21 October 2020

Serious breaches of rule of law in Poland pave way for extensive abuse of human rights (statement)

21 October update (original press release from 16 October below) Ahead of the decision of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal on the constitutionality of the abortion law, due on 22 October, ruling party PiS has continued its assault on the Rule of Law. On 20 October, it was announced that Ombudsman Adam Bodnar, a long-standing champion of human rights, was to be dismissed with use of the Constitutional Tribunal. The trial was finally cancelled just before it was due to take place. Two Supreme Court judges - Irena Majcher and Igor Tuleya - have also come under attack this week and will possibly be stripped of judicial immunity and charged. These latest moves illustrate the aggressive anti-democratic agenda of PiS, as it prepares during a global pandemic to increase its stranglehold on women’s human rights. Polish Women’s Strike activists have demonstrated their opposition to the anticipated outcome of Thursday’s decision, taking to the streets yet again in cars to protest against this latest attempt to devastate the lives of women and their families.  Meanwhile, a new survey published this week by the European Parliament demonstrates that European citizens believe EU funding to Member States should be conditional on national governments upholding the rule of law. This sends a strong signal to EU leaders that there is public support for a robust approach to ensuring no government can get away with flouting the rule of law and democratic values. Press contact: Irene Donadio - +32 (0)491 719 390 __________________________________________   Press release 16 October 2020 - On 22 October, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal will rule on the constitutionality of the country’s abortion law1. IPPF European Network is deeply concerned that this ruling will be the first concrete manifestation of the serious threat to Polish citizens’ lives that is posed by the collapse of the rule of law in their country2. Specifically, the forthcoming ruling concerns the possibility for women to access abortion care on the ground of severe foetal impairment. The Tribunal is expected to rule in line with the ruling party PiS, and declare the provision unconstitutional. IPPF EN fears that due to the deliberate politicisation of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, the ruling on 22 October may be just the first in a series of possible extensive human rights violations. On this occasion, the Tribunal will target women’s health and safety3. Shortly afterwards, it will decide over the fate of survivors of domestic violence when it assesses the constitutionality of the Istanbul Convention. After that, the systemic erosion of the rule of law means that there is nothing to stop it attacking the human rights of other vulnerable groups, including LGBTI people and migrants4. The European Commission has bravely tried to put a stop to the Polish government’s attacks against the basic democratic principle of separation of executive and judicial powers. Unfortunately, it has not so far been successful in halting this erosion. Fundamental EU values of human rights, human dignity, equality and non-discrimination are at stake. Developments in Poland set a terrible precedent that may encourage other illiberal governments to take similar steps. IPPF EN’s Irene Donadio said: “We cannot allow this to happen on our watch. The ruling on 22 October poses a great danger, not only for desperate women in Poland in need of protection and care when facing a tragic private health crisis, but for society as a whole. This ruling is the first step in a long dark march towards the oppression of ordinary people. We call on EU leaders and citizens to protest and support the European Commission’s efforts to defend the rule of law in Poland.” 1. Act on Family Planning, the Protection of the Human Fetus, and the Conditions of Admissibility of Abortion of 1993 (1993 Family Planning Act), Article 4a § 1 pt. 2. The Constitutional Tribunal will assess compliance of the relevant provisions with Art. 30 of the Constitution (right to dignity of a person); then with Art. 38 (protection of life), Art. 31§3 (grounds for limiting freedom), Art. 32 (prohibition of discrimination), Art. 2 (social justice) and Art. 42 (criminal liability) .  2. The Polish government’s reforms to the judiciary since 2015 have raised serious concerns regarding respect for the rule of law, and led the Commission to launch the procedure under Article 7(1) TEU in 2017, and several infringement procedures in the past years. As rightly noted by the European Commission in its first Annual Report on the matter, “concerns over the independence and legitimacy of the Constitutional Tribunal, raised by the Commission under the Article 7(1) TEU procedure, have so far not been resolved.” The Venice Commission has noted that changes to procedures for judicial appointments and the operations of the Constitutional Tribunal have undermined its independence and rendered its work ineffective, including due to excessive executive and legislative control of the Tribunal’s operations. Almost all judges sitting on the Constitutional Tribunal now have strong links with the ruling party PiS and were nominated purely for political purposes, while legitimate Constitutional judges that would not conform have been removed. The assessment requested for the ruling on October 22 was submitted by a group of Members of Parliament in December 2019, including from PiS, the ruling party and was only placed on the agenda of the Tribunal after it was approved by the government. Such a takeover of a Constitutional Tribunal is unprecedented in Europe. 3. Poland already has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the EU. Abortion is only permitted on very limited grounds, including in cases of “severe and irreversible foetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the foetus’s life”. The removal of this ground would virtually ban all access to abortion care, violating Polish women’s human rights to life, health, and dignity, and causing immense suffering to women and their families. In practice, if the Constitutional Tribunal rules that this ground is unconstitutional, women will either be forced to give birth against their will, in a country that offers very little care and support to family and people with disabilities, or to undergo unsafe or illegal abortion procedures, especially for those who cannot afford to travel abroad. By removing this ground, Poland would further breach numerous commitments it has made to uphold and protect human rights. 4. The forthcoming ruling takes place in a broader context of repeated, retrogressive attempts by Poland’s ruling party to roll back on reproductive rights, women’s human rights and LGBTI rights. In July 2020, Poland announced its intention to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, and asked the Constitutional Tribunal to rule on its constitutionality. Poland has also repeatedly infringed on LGBTI rights, which has been denounced by the European Commission and led to the withholding of EU funds from certain Polish cities (Annual Rule of Law Report; European Commission President von der Leyen State of the Union Address).  

IPPF abortion
news item

| 20 October 2020

Slovak parliament rejects regressive bill restricting abortion care (statement)

We are relieved to hear that the attempt by Slovakia’s ruling coalition to restrict Slovak women’s right to abortion has been voted down by parliament today. In so doing, parliamentarians have saved women from a slew of retrogressive measures which would have deprived them of access to information about abortion, forced them to justify their decision to professionals from two distinct healthcare institutions, and obliged them to wait 96 hours between their decision to seek abortion and the attainment of care. These were measures without any grounding in medical guidance and which serve only to make women’s access to healthcare more difficult, degrading and unsafe. Happily, the parliament has voted to adhere to WHO guidelines and international human rights law, and to not break step with the Slovak public who are against further restrictions to abortion, according to a 2018 poll. IPPF EN is grateful to the men and women who mobilized to defend reproductive rights, making their voices heard in spite of current restrictions on public gatherings due to the COVID-19 crisis. This is the second time in as many years that they have been forced to streets in defense of human rights. "We are all very happy that reproductive rights in Slovakia remain untouched. The restrictive draft law did not pass and I believe it is also thanks to the mobilisation of women and men around the country as well as huge support from abroad. The voice of solidarity makes a difference. However, the MPs who submitted the draft law already announced that they are going to continue in their efforts to restrict access to safe and legal abortion. This is not going to end soon and we need sustainable strategies for feminist politics." said Zuzana Maďarová, Slovak researcher and Nebudeme ticho activist. This regressive initiative cannot be seen outside the context of a broader trend of hostility towards women’s reproductive freedom. At this very moment, Polish women are waiting to hear whether their Constitutional Court will ban access to abortion care in cases of severe fetal anomaly (one of the only circumstances where abortion is accessible, in practice). We know that Polish women are sometimes forced to travel to Slovakia to seek abortion care, it is a small mercy that this option has at least been kept open.    

IPPF abortion
news_item

| 20 October 2020

Slovak parliament rejects regressive bill restricting abortion care (statement)

We are relieved to hear that the attempt by Slovakia’s ruling coalition to restrict Slovak women’s right to abortion has been voted down by parliament today. In so doing, parliamentarians have saved women from a slew of retrogressive measures which would have deprived them of access to information about abortion, forced them to justify their decision to professionals from two distinct healthcare institutions, and obliged them to wait 96 hours between their decision to seek abortion and the attainment of care. These were measures without any grounding in medical guidance and which serve only to make women’s access to healthcare more difficult, degrading and unsafe. Happily, the parliament has voted to adhere to WHO guidelines and international human rights law, and to not break step with the Slovak public who are against further restrictions to abortion, according to a 2018 poll. IPPF EN is grateful to the men and women who mobilized to defend reproductive rights, making their voices heard in spite of current restrictions on public gatherings due to the COVID-19 crisis. This is the second time in as many years that they have been forced to streets in defense of human rights. "We are all very happy that reproductive rights in Slovakia remain untouched. The restrictive draft law did not pass and I believe it is also thanks to the mobilisation of women and men around the country as well as huge support from abroad. The voice of solidarity makes a difference. However, the MPs who submitted the draft law already announced that they are going to continue in their efforts to restrict access to safe and legal abortion. This is not going to end soon and we need sustainable strategies for feminist politics." said Zuzana Maďarová, Slovak researcher and Nebudeme ticho activist. This regressive initiative cannot be seen outside the context of a broader trend of hostility towards women’s reproductive freedom. At this very moment, Polish women are waiting to hear whether their Constitutional Court will ban access to abortion care in cases of severe fetal anomaly (one of the only circumstances where abortion is accessible, in practice). We know that Polish women are sometimes forced to travel to Slovakia to seek abortion care, it is a small mercy that this option has at least been kept open.    

Activists in Poland
news item

| 15 October 2020

Poland - Decision of Constitutional Tribunal may lead to human rights violations (letter to EU institutions)

Letter sent to the Presidents of the European Commission and the Council of the European Union by IPPF EN, CIVICUS and Human Rights Watch: ... Subject: Decision of Constitutional Tribunal, marred with concerns about its independence and legitimacy, may lead to human rights violations in Poland Dear Presidents, We are writing to express our deep concerns and draw your attention to a worrying development in Poland, linked to breaches of independence of the judiciary and the protection of human rights. On 22 October, the Constitutional Tribunal will rule on constitutionality[1] of access to abortion care on the ground of “severe and irreversible foetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the foetus’ life”, as permitted under the current abortion law.[2] The removal of this provision would place women’s health and lives at risk and violate Poland’s international human rights obligations. As rightly noted by the European Commission in its first Annual Report on the matter, “concerns over the independence and legitimacy of the Constitutional Tribunal, raised by the Commission under the Article 7(1) TEU procedure, have so far not been resolved.”[3] The Polish government’s reforms to the judiciary since 2015 have raised serious concerns regarding respect for the rule of law, and led the Commission to launch the procedure under Article 7(1) TEU in 2017, and several infringement procedures in the past years.[4] The Venice Commission has noted that changes to procedures for judicial appointments and the operations of the Constitutional Tribunal have undermined its independence and rendered its work ineffective, including due to excessive executive and legislative control of the Tribunal’s operations.[5] The request to review the constitutionality of the 1993 Family Planning Act was submitted in December 2019 by conservative MPs including from the ruling PiS party. Unresolved concerns over the independence and legitimacy of the Tribunal raise significant risks of politicization of human rights and any forthcoming decision on reproductive health and rights. It is apparent that breaches of the rule of law in Poland, materialised in the longstanding concerns regarding Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, could lead to further violations of other Article 2 TEU values: human rights, human dignity, equality and non-discrimination. This latest development is a clear example of how all EU values are interdependent. We call upon you as EU leaders to stand for and defend all EU values. We urge you to address breaches of the rule of law in all EU Member States, to condemn violations of human rights including women’s human rights and access to sexual and reproductive rights everywhere in the EU, and to ensure that flawed courts cannot be used to undermine the respect for human rights and EU values. In your efforts to safeguard all EU values, we call on you to make use of, and continue to further strengthen, all the legal and political tools that are or could be at your disposal, including the new Rule of Law Cycle[6], the recommendations under the Rule of Law Framework, the Article 7 proceedings and the conditionality of access to EU funds. A decision to ban abortions in case of “severe and irreversible foetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the foetus’ life” would be a retrogressive measure. Poland already has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the EU. Abortion is only permitted on limited grounds, including in cases of severe foetal defect. Over ninety percent of legal abortions performed in Poland are accessed on this ground.[7] Criminalizing abortion on this ground would virtually ban all legal access to abortion care in the country. It would constitute an unprecedented threat to Polish women’s human rights including the rights to life, health, dignity, and non-discrimination and may constitute cruel and inhumane treatment. In practice, women and adolescent girls may have their lives put at risk due to complications as a result of a lack of access to timely and safe abortion care, be forced to give birth against their will[8] or to undergo unsafe abortion procedures, especially those who cannot afford to travel abroad. Poland would further breach numerous provisions of human rights treaties that it undertook to respect.[9] This latest development takes place in a broader context of repeated attempts by the ruling party to roll back human rights, including reproductive rights, women’s human rights and LGBTI rights. In July 2020, Poland announced its intention to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, and asked the Constitutional Tribunal to examine its constitutionality.[10] Poland also repeatedly infringed on LGBTI rights, which has been denounced by the European Commission[11] and led the Commission to withhold EU funds from certain Polish cities.[12] Considering these ongoing breaches of the rule of law and retrogressive initiatives, we call on EU institutions to respond urgently and strongly to such initiatives by Poland and any EU Member States, that would endanger the rights and lives of EU citizens and non-EU nationals living in the EU, and weaken the EU project as a whole.   [1] Firstly, it will assess compliance of the relevant provisions with Art. 30 of the Constitution (right to dignity of a person); then with Art. 38 (protection of life), Art. 31§3 (grounds for limiting freedom), Art. 32 (prohibition of discrimination), Art. 2 (social justice) and Art. 42 (criminal liability); https://trybunal.gov.pl/postepowanie-i-orzeczenia/wokanda/art/11253-planowanie-rodziny-ochrona-plodu-ludzkiego-i-warunki-dopuszczalnosci-przerywania-ciazy [2] Act on Family Planning, the Protection of the Human Fetus, and the Conditions of Admissibility of Abortion of 1993 (1993 Family Planning Act), Article 4a § 1 pt. 2; https://www.reproductiverights.org/sites/crr.civicactions.net/files/documents/Polish%20abortion%20act--English%20translation.pdf [3] 2020 Rule of Law Report: https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/pl_rol_country_chapter.pdf [4] Although notably no infringement procedures were launched in relation to the Constitutional Tribunal. [5] https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-AD(2016)026-e [6] The Rule of Law Mechanism should cover the full scope of Art 2 TEU values, as called for by many civil society organisations and the European Parliament: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2020-0251_EN.html [7] According to the most recent data in 2019 in Poland there were 1100 abortions performed, 1074 of which were carried out on the grounds of foetal impairment. [8] 2018 joint CRPD and CEDAW statement and press release. [9] Among many examples, Poland has already been condemned several times by the European Court of Human Rights regarding access to abortion for breaching the European Convention of Human Rights (Tysiąc v. Poland; R.R. v Poland; P. and S. v Poland), judgements that are yet to be implemented since 13 years. [10] https://www.politico.eu/article/poland-court-violence-against-women-istanbul-convention [11] 2020 Rule of Law Report: https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/pl_rol_country_chapter.pdf, President von der Leyen State of the Union Address. [12] https://www.euronews.com/2020/07/29/eu-funding-withheld-from-six-polish-towns-over-lgbtq-free-zones  

Activists in Poland
news_item

| 15 October 2020

Poland - Decision of Constitutional Tribunal may lead to human rights violations (letter to EU institutions)

Letter sent to the Presidents of the European Commission and the Council of the European Union by IPPF EN, CIVICUS and Human Rights Watch: ... Subject: Decision of Constitutional Tribunal, marred with concerns about its independence and legitimacy, may lead to human rights violations in Poland Dear Presidents, We are writing to express our deep concerns and draw your attention to a worrying development in Poland, linked to breaches of independence of the judiciary and the protection of human rights. On 22 October, the Constitutional Tribunal will rule on constitutionality[1] of access to abortion care on the ground of “severe and irreversible foetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the foetus’ life”, as permitted under the current abortion law.[2] The removal of this provision would place women’s health and lives at risk and violate Poland’s international human rights obligations. As rightly noted by the European Commission in its first Annual Report on the matter, “concerns over the independence and legitimacy of the Constitutional Tribunal, raised by the Commission under the Article 7(1) TEU procedure, have so far not been resolved.”[3] The Polish government’s reforms to the judiciary since 2015 have raised serious concerns regarding respect for the rule of law, and led the Commission to launch the procedure under Article 7(1) TEU in 2017, and several infringement procedures in the past years.[4] The Venice Commission has noted that changes to procedures for judicial appointments and the operations of the Constitutional Tribunal have undermined its independence and rendered its work ineffective, including due to excessive executive and legislative control of the Tribunal’s operations.[5] The request to review the constitutionality of the 1993 Family Planning Act was submitted in December 2019 by conservative MPs including from the ruling PiS party. Unresolved concerns over the independence and legitimacy of the Tribunal raise significant risks of politicization of human rights and any forthcoming decision on reproductive health and rights. It is apparent that breaches of the rule of law in Poland, materialised in the longstanding concerns regarding Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, could lead to further violations of other Article 2 TEU values: human rights, human dignity, equality and non-discrimination. This latest development is a clear example of how all EU values are interdependent. We call upon you as EU leaders to stand for and defend all EU values. We urge you to address breaches of the rule of law in all EU Member States, to condemn violations of human rights including women’s human rights and access to sexual and reproductive rights everywhere in the EU, and to ensure that flawed courts cannot be used to undermine the respect for human rights and EU values. In your efforts to safeguard all EU values, we call on you to make use of, and continue to further strengthen, all the legal and political tools that are or could be at your disposal, including the new Rule of Law Cycle[6], the recommendations under the Rule of Law Framework, the Article 7 proceedings and the conditionality of access to EU funds. A decision to ban abortions in case of “severe and irreversible foetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the foetus’ life” would be a retrogressive measure. Poland already has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the EU. Abortion is only permitted on limited grounds, including in cases of severe foetal defect. Over ninety percent of legal abortions performed in Poland are accessed on this ground.[7] Criminalizing abortion on this ground would virtually ban all legal access to abortion care in the country. It would constitute an unprecedented threat to Polish women’s human rights including the rights to life, health, dignity, and non-discrimination and may constitute cruel and inhumane treatment. In practice, women and adolescent girls may have their lives put at risk due to complications as a result of a lack of access to timely and safe abortion care, be forced to give birth against their will[8] or to undergo unsafe abortion procedures, especially those who cannot afford to travel abroad. Poland would further breach numerous provisions of human rights treaties that it undertook to respect.[9] This latest development takes place in a broader context of repeated attempts by the ruling party to roll back human rights, including reproductive rights, women’s human rights and LGBTI rights. In July 2020, Poland announced its intention to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, and asked the Constitutional Tribunal to examine its constitutionality.[10] Poland also repeatedly infringed on LGBTI rights, which has been denounced by the European Commission[11] and led the Commission to withhold EU funds from certain Polish cities.[12] Considering these ongoing breaches of the rule of law and retrogressive initiatives, we call on EU institutions to respond urgently and strongly to such initiatives by Poland and any EU Member States, that would endanger the rights and lives of EU citizens and non-EU nationals living in the EU, and weaken the EU project as a whole.   [1] Firstly, it will assess compliance of the relevant provisions with Art. 30 of the Constitution (right to dignity of a person); then with Art. 38 (protection of life), Art. 31§3 (grounds for limiting freedom), Art. 32 (prohibition of discrimination), Art. 2 (social justice) and Art. 42 (criminal liability); https://trybunal.gov.pl/postepowanie-i-orzeczenia/wokanda/art/11253-planowanie-rodziny-ochrona-plodu-ludzkiego-i-warunki-dopuszczalnosci-przerywania-ciazy [2] Act on Family Planning, the Protection of the Human Fetus, and the Conditions of Admissibility of Abortion of 1993 (1993 Family Planning Act), Article 4a § 1 pt. 2; https://www.reproductiverights.org/sites/crr.civicactions.net/files/documents/Polish%20abortion%20act--English%20translation.pdf [3] 2020 Rule of Law Report: https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/pl_rol_country_chapter.pdf [4] Although notably no infringement procedures were launched in relation to the Constitutional Tribunal. [5] https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-AD(2016)026-e [6] The Rule of Law Mechanism should cover the full scope of Art 2 TEU values, as called for by many civil society organisations and the European Parliament: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2020-0251_EN.html [7] According to the most recent data in 2019 in Poland there were 1100 abortions performed, 1074 of which were carried out on the grounds of foetal impairment. [8] 2018 joint CRPD and CEDAW statement and press release. [9] Among many examples, Poland has already been condemned several times by the European Court of Human Rights regarding access to abortion for breaching the European Convention of Human Rights (Tysiąc v. Poland; R.R. v Poland; P. and S. v Poland), judgements that are yet to be implemented since 13 years. [10] https://www.politico.eu/article/poland-court-violence-against-women-istanbul-convention [11] 2020 Rule of Law Report: https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/pl_rol_country_chapter.pdf, President von der Leyen State of the Union Address. [12] https://www.euronews.com/2020/07/29/eu-funding-withheld-from-six-polish-towns-over-lgbtq-free-zones  

Woman looks out of window
news item

| 12 October 2020

Italy, France and Spain – positive steps on access to contraceptive and abortion care

IPPF EN is very encouraged by a series of positive developments in recent days which show European decision-makers and public bodies supporting the reproductive freedom and safety of women and girls, and rejecting harmful obstacles to care. At a time when other countries in Europe are pursuing retrogressive political agendas, we are heartened by these examples of progressive values shaping the legal frameworks which determine how women and girls access and experience care. Emergency contraception: Italy removes prescription hurdle for minors needing contraceptive care On 8 October, Italy’s national Medicines Agency (Aifa) announced new rules for under-18s needing to access emergency contraception. Adolescent girls will now be able to access this essential care over-the-counter in pharmacies without being required to have a prescription. The Aifa described this step forward as a “turning point for teenagers’ physical and mental health”, and “an ethical measure which will help avoid difficult situations in which girls usually bear the burden by themselves.” The organisation also announced the creation of a much-needed new website to provide information about contraception. (article in La Repubblica here) French Parliament paves the way for boosting women’s access to abortion care Also on 8 October, France’s National Assembly discussed a bill to strengthen the right to abortion. New measures approved in this first reading would include the extension of the legal deadline for access to abortion from 12 to 14 weeks of pregnancy, the possibility for midwives to carry out surgical abortions up to the 10th week, and the removal of the clause that enables care providers to deny women care based on their own personal beliefs. Our French member Le Planning Familial, which has regularly denounced the difficulties that women face in accessing abortion care, strongly supports these proposed new measures. LPF described them as a first step towards aligning with the European countries that have the most women-centred abortion legislation, and doing away with unnecessary hurdles to care: “This first reading of the law is a real step forward for women’s right to control their bodies. Thousands of French women go abroad to have abortions every year. This decision to extend the time limits makes it possible to fight against social inequalities, since not all women can access care abroad, and against territorial inequalities, because all women in Europe should have the same right to safety and reproductive freedom.” (Full statement in French from Le Planning Familial here) The next step will be a vote on the reform in the French Senate. Abortion care: Spain plans to remove 2015 parental consent obstacle for 16 and 17-year-olds Spain’s government has announced its intention to reform the current abortion law to remove a hurdle introduced in 2015 by the ruling Conservative government requiring 16 and 17-year olds to seek parental consent before being able to access abortion care. Equality Minister Irene Montero also announced plans to promote relationships and sexuality education, given its role in protecting young people against the risk of gender-based violence, and to boost contraceptive access and choice. In a statement, our Spanish member the FPFE welcomed the government’s announcement, and hoped that it would be swiftly followed up with action to turn the commitments into reality, reiterating that the current parental consent requirement is a threat to young women's health, safety and autonomy.    On contraceptive care, they noted that the proposal to guarantee “the best possible access to contraception with its “most innovative and effective” forms… would bring the Spanish state closer to the level of access… in other European countries.” The FPFE also called for the announcement to “be accompanied by measures that guarantee public funding of all contraceptive methods…, to end the inequalities between autonomous communities, and of measures that also entail access for all women… regardless of their administrative situation.” (Full FPFE statement here; BBC article here)

Woman looks out of window
news_item

| 12 October 2020

Italy, France and Spain – positive steps on access to contraceptive and abortion care

IPPF EN is very encouraged by a series of positive developments in recent days which show European decision-makers and public bodies supporting the reproductive freedom and safety of women and girls, and rejecting harmful obstacles to care. At a time when other countries in Europe are pursuing retrogressive political agendas, we are heartened by these examples of progressive values shaping the legal frameworks which determine how women and girls access and experience care. Emergency contraception: Italy removes prescription hurdle for minors needing contraceptive care On 8 October, Italy’s national Medicines Agency (Aifa) announced new rules for under-18s needing to access emergency contraception. Adolescent girls will now be able to access this essential care over-the-counter in pharmacies without being required to have a prescription. The Aifa described this step forward as a “turning point for teenagers’ physical and mental health”, and “an ethical measure which will help avoid difficult situations in which girls usually bear the burden by themselves.” The organisation also announced the creation of a much-needed new website to provide information about contraception. (article in La Repubblica here) French Parliament paves the way for boosting women’s access to abortion care Also on 8 October, France’s National Assembly discussed a bill to strengthen the right to abortion. New measures approved in this first reading would include the extension of the legal deadline for access to abortion from 12 to 14 weeks of pregnancy, the possibility for midwives to carry out surgical abortions up to the 10th week, and the removal of the clause that enables care providers to deny women care based on their own personal beliefs. Our French member Le Planning Familial, which has regularly denounced the difficulties that women face in accessing abortion care, strongly supports these proposed new measures. LPF described them as a first step towards aligning with the European countries that have the most women-centred abortion legislation, and doing away with unnecessary hurdles to care: “This first reading of the law is a real step forward for women’s right to control their bodies. Thousands of French women go abroad to have abortions every year. This decision to extend the time limits makes it possible to fight against social inequalities, since not all women can access care abroad, and against territorial inequalities, because all women in Europe should have the same right to safety and reproductive freedom.” (Full statement in French from Le Planning Familial here) The next step will be a vote on the reform in the French Senate. Abortion care: Spain plans to remove 2015 parental consent obstacle for 16 and 17-year-olds Spain’s government has announced its intention to reform the current abortion law to remove a hurdle introduced in 2015 by the ruling Conservative government requiring 16 and 17-year olds to seek parental consent before being able to access abortion care. Equality Minister Irene Montero also announced plans to promote relationships and sexuality education, given its role in protecting young people against the risk of gender-based violence, and to boost contraceptive access and choice. In a statement, our Spanish member the FPFE welcomed the government’s announcement, and hoped that it would be swiftly followed up with action to turn the commitments into reality, reiterating that the current parental consent requirement is a threat to young women's health, safety and autonomy.    On contraceptive care, they noted that the proposal to guarantee “the best possible access to contraception with its “most innovative and effective” forms… would bring the Spanish state closer to the level of access… in other European countries.” The FPFE also called for the announcement to “be accompanied by measures that guarantee public funding of all contraceptive methods…, to end the inequalities between autonomous communities, and of measures that also entail access for all women… regardless of their administrative situation.” (Full FPFE statement here; BBC article here)

Poland abortion protest
news item

| 28 October 2020

Polish government must refrain from repressing peaceful protesters (statement)

Press statement 28 October, IPPF EN and CIVICUS Polish law enforcement and military which is being deployed today, must refrain from using excessive force against peaceful protesters who have taken to the streets around the country to express their discontent with the Polish government under the ruling PiS (Law and Justice) party.   Protests were prompted by the decision of the Constitutional Tribunal, to impose a near ban on abortion on 22nd October. The protests are currently in their seventh day and have drawn support from a wide variety of people, including miners, taxi drivers, farmers and trade unions. CIVICUS and IPPF EN are concerned that these peaceful protests are being met with excessive force and violence from law enforcement officials and far-right groups. Footage documented by activists and journalists on social media show police using teargas, pepper spray and physically assaulting protesters. This is contrary to standards set out in international human rights law and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which guarantees the right to peaceful assembly. In addition, the Prime Minister’s announcement that the military will be sent to the streets on 28th October (today), officially for COVID-19 reasons, is worrying given that UN standards indicate that the military should not be used to police assemblies. It is unacceptable that the Polish government is using COVID-19 as a pretence to repress peaceful protests. The Polish government has already been strongly criticised for using the pandemic to consolidate power and gag opposition, and it has previously done nothing to punish violence against peaceful demonstrations by far-right groups. “Tens of thousands of people are currently taking to the streets of Poland to demand fundamental human rights amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of protecting protesters, the authorities have used tear gas, pepper spray and physical assault. The deployment of the military adds to the concern that violence against protesters may escalate as protests continue to grow,” said Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS “We are gravely concerned about the safety of women in Poland. The ruling of this tribunal has trampled upon their rights and freedoms and now their protests are being stifled by the police and army. Citizens cannot be bullied. We ask the European Union to stand firm against the erosion of civil liberties and show solidarity with defenders of fundamental rights in Poland,” said Irene Donadio, Senior Lead for Strategy and Partnerships at IPPF EN.  We urge the Polish government to end restrictions on peaceful protesters. We also call on EU leaders to condemn attacks and violence perpetrated by the authorities and non-state actors.   Notes to Editors: CIVICUS report: https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2020/10/28/thousands-protest-constitutional-tribunal-imposes-near-ban-abortion/ Joint CIVICUS/IPPF EN letter sent to EU institutions : https://www.ippfen.org/news/poland-concerns-over-use-excessive-force-against-peaceful-protesters   Press contacts: CIVICUS: [email protected] IPPF EN: Irene Donadio - [email protected], +32 491 71 93 90 Photo credit: Spacerowiczka.

Poland abortion protest
news_item

| 28 October 2020

Polish government must refrain from repressing peaceful protesters (statement)

Press statement 28 October, IPPF EN and CIVICUS Polish law enforcement and military which is being deployed today, must refrain from using excessive force against peaceful protesters who have taken to the streets around the country to express their discontent with the Polish government under the ruling PiS (Law and Justice) party.   Protests were prompted by the decision of the Constitutional Tribunal, to impose a near ban on abortion on 22nd October. The protests are currently in their seventh day and have drawn support from a wide variety of people, including miners, taxi drivers, farmers and trade unions. CIVICUS and IPPF EN are concerned that these peaceful protests are being met with excessive force and violence from law enforcement officials and far-right groups. Footage documented by activists and journalists on social media show police using teargas, pepper spray and physically assaulting protesters. This is contrary to standards set out in international human rights law and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which guarantees the right to peaceful assembly. In addition, the Prime Minister’s announcement that the military will be sent to the streets on 28th October (today), officially for COVID-19 reasons, is worrying given that UN standards indicate that the military should not be used to police assemblies. It is unacceptable that the Polish government is using COVID-19 as a pretence to repress peaceful protests. The Polish government has already been strongly criticised for using the pandemic to consolidate power and gag opposition, and it has previously done nothing to punish violence against peaceful demonstrations by far-right groups. “Tens of thousands of people are currently taking to the streets of Poland to demand fundamental human rights amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of protecting protesters, the authorities have used tear gas, pepper spray and physical assault. The deployment of the military adds to the concern that violence against protesters may escalate as protests continue to grow,” said Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS “We are gravely concerned about the safety of women in Poland. The ruling of this tribunal has trampled upon their rights and freedoms and now their protests are being stifled by the police and army. Citizens cannot be bullied. We ask the European Union to stand firm against the erosion of civil liberties and show solidarity with defenders of fundamental rights in Poland,” said Irene Donadio, Senior Lead for Strategy and Partnerships at IPPF EN.  We urge the Polish government to end restrictions on peaceful protesters. We also call on EU leaders to condemn attacks and violence perpetrated by the authorities and non-state actors.   Notes to Editors: CIVICUS report: https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2020/10/28/thousands-protest-constitutional-tribunal-imposes-near-ban-abortion/ Joint CIVICUS/IPPF EN letter sent to EU institutions : https://www.ippfen.org/news/poland-concerns-over-use-excessive-force-against-peaceful-protesters   Press contacts: CIVICUS: [email protected] IPPF EN: Irene Donadio - [email protected], +32 491 71 93 90 Photo credit: Spacerowiczka.

Poland abortion ban
news item

| 22 October 2020

Polish abortion ban will devastate women’s lives, in first major attack on human rights resulting from erosion of Rule of Law (statement)

On 22 October, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the country’s abortion law is unconstitutional, specifically striking down the possibility for women to access abortion care on the ground of severe foetal impairment. This cruel, regressive move has been made possible by the ruling PiS party’s deliberate erosion of the rule of law and democratic values in the country, and its placement of politically appointed judges into a body that, when carrying out its legitimate duty, is responsible precisely for upholding the rule of law. The ruling is just the first concrete manifestation of how the current situation in Poland enables PiS to violate human rights. Today’s decision automatically removes the only ground on which Polish women have still been able to access abortion care in practice, when they needed it for therapeutic reasons. The result will be agonising for women and their families, forcing some to continue through pregnancies against their will, including in cases of fatal or severe foetal impairment, while others will have no choice but to travel abroad to seek care if they have the financial means to do so, or to seek underground abortions. This decision will needlessly increase the suffering of women already facing very difficult situations. Such inhumane and degrading treatment has been described by the European Court of Human Rights as tantamount to torturing women. This act of reproductive coercion is in line with the agenda of Poland’s ruling PiS party, which continues zealously to mount attacks against women’s reproductive rights and freedom. Public opinion in Poland does not support a ban on women’s access to abortion care. The European Commission has already expressed serious concerns regarding breaches of the rule of law in Poland, and has proposed to make EU funding to Member States conditional on respect for this EU value. “On this sad day, as we mourn the extinguishing of Polish women’s remaining sliver of access to abortion care, we call on EU Member States to back this measure aimed at protecting EU values, and to strongly condemn such blatant violations of human rights in Europe. Today’s decision in Poland is a stark illustration of what ordinary people stand to lose,” said IPPF EN’s Irene Donadio. In addition to marking a devastating day for women’s safety in Poland, 22 October may also see reproductive bullies mark their hatred for women and LGBTI people at the international level. Regressive governments from around the world, including Poland and Hungary, will sign a farcical Trump-led document with no legal basis, with which they attempt to defy international consensus in support of sexual and reproductive health and rights. Today may also be the day that the United States confirm Amy Coney Barrett, known for her anti-abortion views, to the Supreme Court.   Photo credit: Katarzyna Pierzchała - Obywatel KP Fotograf

Poland abortion ban
news_item

| 22 October 2020

Polish abortion ban will devastate women’s lives, in first major attack on human rights resulting from erosion of Rule of Law (statement)

On 22 October, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the country’s abortion law is unconstitutional, specifically striking down the possibility for women to access abortion care on the ground of severe foetal impairment. This cruel, regressive move has been made possible by the ruling PiS party’s deliberate erosion of the rule of law and democratic values in the country, and its placement of politically appointed judges into a body that, when carrying out its legitimate duty, is responsible precisely for upholding the rule of law. The ruling is just the first concrete manifestation of how the current situation in Poland enables PiS to violate human rights. Today’s decision automatically removes the only ground on which Polish women have still been able to access abortion care in practice, when they needed it for therapeutic reasons. The result will be agonising for women and their families, forcing some to continue through pregnancies against their will, including in cases of fatal or severe foetal impairment, while others will have no choice but to travel abroad to seek care if they have the financial means to do so, or to seek underground abortions. This decision will needlessly increase the suffering of women already facing very difficult situations. Such inhumane and degrading treatment has been described by the European Court of Human Rights as tantamount to torturing women. This act of reproductive coercion is in line with the agenda of Poland’s ruling PiS party, which continues zealously to mount attacks against women’s reproductive rights and freedom. Public opinion in Poland does not support a ban on women’s access to abortion care. The European Commission has already expressed serious concerns regarding breaches of the rule of law in Poland, and has proposed to make EU funding to Member States conditional on respect for this EU value. “On this sad day, as we mourn the extinguishing of Polish women’s remaining sliver of access to abortion care, we call on EU Member States to back this measure aimed at protecting EU values, and to strongly condemn such blatant violations of human rights in Europe. Today’s decision in Poland is a stark illustration of what ordinary people stand to lose,” said IPPF EN’s Irene Donadio. In addition to marking a devastating day for women’s safety in Poland, 22 October may also see reproductive bullies mark their hatred for women and LGBTI people at the international level. Regressive governments from around the world, including Poland and Hungary, will sign a farcical Trump-led document with no legal basis, with which they attempt to defy international consensus in support of sexual and reproductive health and rights. Today may also be the day that the United States confirm Amy Coney Barrett, known for her anti-abortion views, to the Supreme Court.   Photo credit: Katarzyna Pierzchała - Obywatel KP Fotograf

Poland protest during COVID-19
news item

| 16 October 2020

Serious breaches of rule of law in Poland pave way for extensive abuse of human rights (statement)

21 October update (original press release from 16 October below) Ahead of the decision of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal on the constitutionality of the abortion law, due on 22 October, ruling party PiS has continued its assault on the Rule of Law. On 20 October, it was announced that Ombudsman Adam Bodnar, a long-standing champion of human rights, was to be dismissed with use of the Constitutional Tribunal. The trial was finally cancelled just before it was due to take place. Two Supreme Court judges - Irena Majcher and Igor Tuleya - have also come under attack this week and will possibly be stripped of judicial immunity and charged. These latest moves illustrate the aggressive anti-democratic agenda of PiS, as it prepares during a global pandemic to increase its stranglehold on women’s human rights. Polish Women’s Strike activists have demonstrated their opposition to the anticipated outcome of Thursday’s decision, taking to the streets yet again in cars to protest against this latest attempt to devastate the lives of women and their families.  Meanwhile, a new survey published this week by the European Parliament demonstrates that European citizens believe EU funding to Member States should be conditional on national governments upholding the rule of law. This sends a strong signal to EU leaders that there is public support for a robust approach to ensuring no government can get away with flouting the rule of law and democratic values. Press contact: Irene Donadio - +32 (0)491 719 390 __________________________________________   Press release 16 October 2020 - On 22 October, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal will rule on the constitutionality of the country’s abortion law1. IPPF European Network is deeply concerned that this ruling will be the first concrete manifestation of the serious threat to Polish citizens’ lives that is posed by the collapse of the rule of law in their country2. Specifically, the forthcoming ruling concerns the possibility for women to access abortion care on the ground of severe foetal impairment. The Tribunal is expected to rule in line with the ruling party PiS, and declare the provision unconstitutional. IPPF EN fears that due to the deliberate politicisation of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, the ruling on 22 October may be just the first in a series of possible extensive human rights violations. On this occasion, the Tribunal will target women’s health and safety3. Shortly afterwards, it will decide over the fate of survivors of domestic violence when it assesses the constitutionality of the Istanbul Convention. After that, the systemic erosion of the rule of law means that there is nothing to stop it attacking the human rights of other vulnerable groups, including LGBTI people and migrants4. The European Commission has bravely tried to put a stop to the Polish government’s attacks against the basic democratic principle of separation of executive and judicial powers. Unfortunately, it has not so far been successful in halting this erosion. Fundamental EU values of human rights, human dignity, equality and non-discrimination are at stake. Developments in Poland set a terrible precedent that may encourage other illiberal governments to take similar steps. IPPF EN’s Irene Donadio said: “We cannot allow this to happen on our watch. The ruling on 22 October poses a great danger, not only for desperate women in Poland in need of protection and care when facing a tragic private health crisis, but for society as a whole. This ruling is the first step in a long dark march towards the oppression of ordinary people. We call on EU leaders and citizens to protest and support the European Commission’s efforts to defend the rule of law in Poland.” 1. Act on Family Planning, the Protection of the Human Fetus, and the Conditions of Admissibility of Abortion of 1993 (1993 Family Planning Act), Article 4a § 1 pt. 2. The Constitutional Tribunal will assess compliance of the relevant provisions with Art. 30 of the Constitution (right to dignity of a person); then with Art. 38 (protection of life), Art. 31§3 (grounds for limiting freedom), Art. 32 (prohibition of discrimination), Art. 2 (social justice) and Art. 42 (criminal liability) .  2. The Polish government’s reforms to the judiciary since 2015 have raised serious concerns regarding respect for the rule of law, and led the Commission to launch the procedure under Article 7(1) TEU in 2017, and several infringement procedures in the past years. As rightly noted by the European Commission in its first Annual Report on the matter, “concerns over the independence and legitimacy of the Constitutional Tribunal, raised by the Commission under the Article 7(1) TEU procedure, have so far not been resolved.” The Venice Commission has noted that changes to procedures for judicial appointments and the operations of the Constitutional Tribunal have undermined its independence and rendered its work ineffective, including due to excessive executive and legislative control of the Tribunal’s operations. Almost all judges sitting on the Constitutional Tribunal now have strong links with the ruling party PiS and were nominated purely for political purposes, while legitimate Constitutional judges that would not conform have been removed. The assessment requested for the ruling on October 22 was submitted by a group of Members of Parliament in December 2019, including from PiS, the ruling party and was only placed on the agenda of the Tribunal after it was approved by the government. Such a takeover of a Constitutional Tribunal is unprecedented in Europe. 3. Poland already has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the EU. Abortion is only permitted on very limited grounds, including in cases of “severe and irreversible foetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the foetus’s life”. The removal of this ground would virtually ban all access to abortion care, violating Polish women’s human rights to life, health, and dignity, and causing immense suffering to women and their families. In practice, if the Constitutional Tribunal rules that this ground is unconstitutional, women will either be forced to give birth against their will, in a country that offers very little care and support to family and people with disabilities, or to undergo unsafe or illegal abortion procedures, especially for those who cannot afford to travel abroad. By removing this ground, Poland would further breach numerous commitments it has made to uphold and protect human rights. 4. The forthcoming ruling takes place in a broader context of repeated, retrogressive attempts by Poland’s ruling party to roll back on reproductive rights, women’s human rights and LGBTI rights. In July 2020, Poland announced its intention to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, and asked the Constitutional Tribunal to rule on its constitutionality. Poland has also repeatedly infringed on LGBTI rights, which has been denounced by the European Commission and led to the withholding of EU funds from certain Polish cities (Annual Rule of Law Report; European Commission President von der Leyen State of the Union Address).  

Poland protest during COVID-19
news_item

| 21 October 2020

Serious breaches of rule of law in Poland pave way for extensive abuse of human rights (statement)

21 October update (original press release from 16 October below) Ahead of the decision of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal on the constitutionality of the abortion law, due on 22 October, ruling party PiS has continued its assault on the Rule of Law. On 20 October, it was announced that Ombudsman Adam Bodnar, a long-standing champion of human rights, was to be dismissed with use of the Constitutional Tribunal. The trial was finally cancelled just before it was due to take place. Two Supreme Court judges - Irena Majcher and Igor Tuleya - have also come under attack this week and will possibly be stripped of judicial immunity and charged. These latest moves illustrate the aggressive anti-democratic agenda of PiS, as it prepares during a global pandemic to increase its stranglehold on women’s human rights. Polish Women’s Strike activists have demonstrated their opposition to the anticipated outcome of Thursday’s decision, taking to the streets yet again in cars to protest against this latest attempt to devastate the lives of women and their families.  Meanwhile, a new survey published this week by the European Parliament demonstrates that European citizens believe EU funding to Member States should be conditional on national governments upholding the rule of law. This sends a strong signal to EU leaders that there is public support for a robust approach to ensuring no government can get away with flouting the rule of law and democratic values. Press contact: Irene Donadio - +32 (0)491 719 390 __________________________________________   Press release 16 October 2020 - On 22 October, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal will rule on the constitutionality of the country’s abortion law1. IPPF European Network is deeply concerned that this ruling will be the first concrete manifestation of the serious threat to Polish citizens’ lives that is posed by the collapse of the rule of law in their country2. Specifically, the forthcoming ruling concerns the possibility for women to access abortion care on the ground of severe foetal impairment. The Tribunal is expected to rule in line with the ruling party PiS, and declare the provision unconstitutional. IPPF EN fears that due to the deliberate politicisation of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, the ruling on 22 October may be just the first in a series of possible extensive human rights violations. On this occasion, the Tribunal will target women’s health and safety3. Shortly afterwards, it will decide over the fate of survivors of domestic violence when it assesses the constitutionality of the Istanbul Convention. After that, the systemic erosion of the rule of law means that there is nothing to stop it attacking the human rights of other vulnerable groups, including LGBTI people and migrants4. The European Commission has bravely tried to put a stop to the Polish government’s attacks against the basic democratic principle of separation of executive and judicial powers. Unfortunately, it has not so far been successful in halting this erosion. Fundamental EU values of human rights, human dignity, equality and non-discrimination are at stake. Developments in Poland set a terrible precedent that may encourage other illiberal governments to take similar steps. IPPF EN’s Irene Donadio said: “We cannot allow this to happen on our watch. The ruling on 22 October poses a great danger, not only for desperate women in Poland in need of protection and care when facing a tragic private health crisis, but for society as a whole. This ruling is the first step in a long dark march towards the oppression of ordinary people. We call on EU leaders and citizens to protest and support the European Commission’s efforts to defend the rule of law in Poland.” 1. Act on Family Planning, the Protection of the Human Fetus, and the Conditions of Admissibility of Abortion of 1993 (1993 Family Planning Act), Article 4a § 1 pt. 2. The Constitutional Tribunal will assess compliance of the relevant provisions with Art. 30 of the Constitution (right to dignity of a person); then with Art. 38 (protection of life), Art. 31§3 (grounds for limiting freedom), Art. 32 (prohibition of discrimination), Art. 2 (social justice) and Art. 42 (criminal liability) .  2. The Polish government’s reforms to the judiciary since 2015 have raised serious concerns regarding respect for the rule of law, and led the Commission to launch the procedure under Article 7(1) TEU in 2017, and several infringement procedures in the past years. As rightly noted by the European Commission in its first Annual Report on the matter, “concerns over the independence and legitimacy of the Constitutional Tribunal, raised by the Commission under the Article 7(1) TEU procedure, have so far not been resolved.” The Venice Commission has noted that changes to procedures for judicial appointments and the operations of the Constitutional Tribunal have undermined its independence and rendered its work ineffective, including due to excessive executive and legislative control of the Tribunal’s operations. Almost all judges sitting on the Constitutional Tribunal now have strong links with the ruling party PiS and were nominated purely for political purposes, while legitimate Constitutional judges that would not conform have been removed. The assessment requested for the ruling on October 22 was submitted by a group of Members of Parliament in December 2019, including from PiS, the ruling party and was only placed on the agenda of the Tribunal after it was approved by the government. Such a takeover of a Constitutional Tribunal is unprecedented in Europe. 3. Poland already has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the EU. Abortion is only permitted on very limited grounds, including in cases of “severe and irreversible foetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the foetus’s life”. The removal of this ground would virtually ban all access to abortion care, violating Polish women’s human rights to life, health, and dignity, and causing immense suffering to women and their families. In practice, if the Constitutional Tribunal rules that this ground is unconstitutional, women will either be forced to give birth against their will, in a country that offers very little care and support to family and people with disabilities, or to undergo unsafe or illegal abortion procedures, especially for those who cannot afford to travel abroad. By removing this ground, Poland would further breach numerous commitments it has made to uphold and protect human rights. 4. The forthcoming ruling takes place in a broader context of repeated, retrogressive attempts by Poland’s ruling party to roll back on reproductive rights, women’s human rights and LGBTI rights. In July 2020, Poland announced its intention to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, and asked the Constitutional Tribunal to rule on its constitutionality. Poland has also repeatedly infringed on LGBTI rights, which has been denounced by the European Commission and led to the withholding of EU funds from certain Polish cities (Annual Rule of Law Report; European Commission President von der Leyen State of the Union Address).  

IPPF abortion
news item

| 20 October 2020

Slovak parliament rejects regressive bill restricting abortion care (statement)

We are relieved to hear that the attempt by Slovakia’s ruling coalition to restrict Slovak women’s right to abortion has been voted down by parliament today. In so doing, parliamentarians have saved women from a slew of retrogressive measures which would have deprived them of access to information about abortion, forced them to justify their decision to professionals from two distinct healthcare institutions, and obliged them to wait 96 hours between their decision to seek abortion and the attainment of care. These were measures without any grounding in medical guidance and which serve only to make women’s access to healthcare more difficult, degrading and unsafe. Happily, the parliament has voted to adhere to WHO guidelines and international human rights law, and to not break step with the Slovak public who are against further restrictions to abortion, according to a 2018 poll. IPPF EN is grateful to the men and women who mobilized to defend reproductive rights, making their voices heard in spite of current restrictions on public gatherings due to the COVID-19 crisis. This is the second time in as many years that they have been forced to streets in defense of human rights. "We are all very happy that reproductive rights in Slovakia remain untouched. The restrictive draft law did not pass and I believe it is also thanks to the mobilisation of women and men around the country as well as huge support from abroad. The voice of solidarity makes a difference. However, the MPs who submitted the draft law already announced that they are going to continue in their efforts to restrict access to safe and legal abortion. This is not going to end soon and we need sustainable strategies for feminist politics." said Zuzana Maďarová, Slovak researcher and Nebudeme ticho activist. This regressive initiative cannot be seen outside the context of a broader trend of hostility towards women’s reproductive freedom. At this very moment, Polish women are waiting to hear whether their Constitutional Court will ban access to abortion care in cases of severe fetal anomaly (one of the only circumstances where abortion is accessible, in practice). We know that Polish women are sometimes forced to travel to Slovakia to seek abortion care, it is a small mercy that this option has at least been kept open.    

IPPF abortion
news_item

| 20 October 2020

Slovak parliament rejects regressive bill restricting abortion care (statement)

We are relieved to hear that the attempt by Slovakia’s ruling coalition to restrict Slovak women’s right to abortion has been voted down by parliament today. In so doing, parliamentarians have saved women from a slew of retrogressive measures which would have deprived them of access to information about abortion, forced them to justify their decision to professionals from two distinct healthcare institutions, and obliged them to wait 96 hours between their decision to seek abortion and the attainment of care. These were measures without any grounding in medical guidance and which serve only to make women’s access to healthcare more difficult, degrading and unsafe. Happily, the parliament has voted to adhere to WHO guidelines and international human rights law, and to not break step with the Slovak public who are against further restrictions to abortion, according to a 2018 poll. IPPF EN is grateful to the men and women who mobilized to defend reproductive rights, making their voices heard in spite of current restrictions on public gatherings due to the COVID-19 crisis. This is the second time in as many years that they have been forced to streets in defense of human rights. "We are all very happy that reproductive rights in Slovakia remain untouched. The restrictive draft law did not pass and I believe it is also thanks to the mobilisation of women and men around the country as well as huge support from abroad. The voice of solidarity makes a difference. However, the MPs who submitted the draft law already announced that they are going to continue in their efforts to restrict access to safe and legal abortion. This is not going to end soon and we need sustainable strategies for feminist politics." said Zuzana Maďarová, Slovak researcher and Nebudeme ticho activist. This regressive initiative cannot be seen outside the context of a broader trend of hostility towards women’s reproductive freedom. At this very moment, Polish women are waiting to hear whether their Constitutional Court will ban access to abortion care in cases of severe fetal anomaly (one of the only circumstances where abortion is accessible, in practice). We know that Polish women are sometimes forced to travel to Slovakia to seek abortion care, it is a small mercy that this option has at least been kept open.    

Activists in Poland
news item

| 15 October 2020

Poland - Decision of Constitutional Tribunal may lead to human rights violations (letter to EU institutions)

Letter sent to the Presidents of the European Commission and the Council of the European Union by IPPF EN, CIVICUS and Human Rights Watch: ... Subject: Decision of Constitutional Tribunal, marred with concerns about its independence and legitimacy, may lead to human rights violations in Poland Dear Presidents, We are writing to express our deep concerns and draw your attention to a worrying development in Poland, linked to breaches of independence of the judiciary and the protection of human rights. On 22 October, the Constitutional Tribunal will rule on constitutionality[1] of access to abortion care on the ground of “severe and irreversible foetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the foetus’ life”, as permitted under the current abortion law.[2] The removal of this provision would place women’s health and lives at risk and violate Poland’s international human rights obligations. As rightly noted by the European Commission in its first Annual Report on the matter, “concerns over the independence and legitimacy of the Constitutional Tribunal, raised by the Commission under the Article 7(1) TEU procedure, have so far not been resolved.”[3] The Polish government’s reforms to the judiciary since 2015 have raised serious concerns regarding respect for the rule of law, and led the Commission to launch the procedure under Article 7(1) TEU in 2017, and several infringement procedures in the past years.[4] The Venice Commission has noted that changes to procedures for judicial appointments and the operations of the Constitutional Tribunal have undermined its independence and rendered its work ineffective, including due to excessive executive and legislative control of the Tribunal’s operations.[5] The request to review the constitutionality of the 1993 Family Planning Act was submitted in December 2019 by conservative MPs including from the ruling PiS party. Unresolved concerns over the independence and legitimacy of the Tribunal raise significant risks of politicization of human rights and any forthcoming decision on reproductive health and rights. It is apparent that breaches of the rule of law in Poland, materialised in the longstanding concerns regarding Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, could lead to further violations of other Article 2 TEU values: human rights, human dignity, equality and non-discrimination. This latest development is a clear example of how all EU values are interdependent. We call upon you as EU leaders to stand for and defend all EU values. We urge you to address breaches of the rule of law in all EU Member States, to condemn violations of human rights including women’s human rights and access to sexual and reproductive rights everywhere in the EU, and to ensure that flawed courts cannot be used to undermine the respect for human rights and EU values. In your efforts to safeguard all EU values, we call on you to make use of, and continue to further strengthen, all the legal and political tools that are or could be at your disposal, including the new Rule of Law Cycle[6], the recommendations under the Rule of Law Framework, the Article 7 proceedings and the conditionality of access to EU funds. A decision to ban abortions in case of “severe and irreversible foetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the foetus’ life” would be a retrogressive measure. Poland already has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the EU. Abortion is only permitted on limited grounds, including in cases of severe foetal defect. Over ninety percent of legal abortions performed in Poland are accessed on this ground.[7] Criminalizing abortion on this ground would virtually ban all legal access to abortion care in the country. It would constitute an unprecedented threat to Polish women’s human rights including the rights to life, health, dignity, and non-discrimination and may constitute cruel and inhumane treatment. In practice, women and adolescent girls may have their lives put at risk due to complications as a result of a lack of access to timely and safe abortion care, be forced to give birth against their will[8] or to undergo unsafe abortion procedures, especially those who cannot afford to travel abroad. Poland would further breach numerous provisions of human rights treaties that it undertook to respect.[9] This latest development takes place in a broader context of repeated attempts by the ruling party to roll back human rights, including reproductive rights, women’s human rights and LGBTI rights. In July 2020, Poland announced its intention to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, and asked the Constitutional Tribunal to examine its constitutionality.[10] Poland also repeatedly infringed on LGBTI rights, which has been denounced by the European Commission[11] and led the Commission to withhold EU funds from certain Polish cities.[12] Considering these ongoing breaches of the rule of law and retrogressive initiatives, we call on EU institutions to respond urgently and strongly to such initiatives by Poland and any EU Member States, that would endanger the rights and lives of EU citizens and non-EU nationals living in the EU, and weaken the EU project as a whole.   [1] Firstly, it will assess compliance of the relevant provisions with Art. 30 of the Constitution (right to dignity of a person); then with Art. 38 (protection of life), Art. 31§3 (grounds for limiting freedom), Art. 32 (prohibition of discrimination), Art. 2 (social justice) and Art. 42 (criminal liability); https://trybunal.gov.pl/postepowanie-i-orzeczenia/wokanda/art/11253-planowanie-rodziny-ochrona-plodu-ludzkiego-i-warunki-dopuszczalnosci-przerywania-ciazy [2] Act on Family Planning, the Protection of the Human Fetus, and the Conditions of Admissibility of Abortion of 1993 (1993 Family Planning Act), Article 4a § 1 pt. 2; https://www.reproductiverights.org/sites/crr.civicactions.net/files/documents/Polish%20abortion%20act--English%20translation.pdf [3] 2020 Rule of Law Report: https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/pl_rol_country_chapter.pdf [4] Although notably no infringement procedures were launched in relation to the Constitutional Tribunal. [5] https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-AD(2016)026-e [6] The Rule of Law Mechanism should cover the full scope of Art 2 TEU values, as called for by many civil society organisations and the European Parliament: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2020-0251_EN.html [7] According to the most recent data in 2019 in Poland there were 1100 abortions performed, 1074 of which were carried out on the grounds of foetal impairment. [8] 2018 joint CRPD and CEDAW statement and press release. [9] Among many examples, Poland has already been condemned several times by the European Court of Human Rights regarding access to abortion for breaching the European Convention of Human Rights (Tysiąc v. Poland; R.R. v Poland; P. and S. v Poland), judgements that are yet to be implemented since 13 years. [10] https://www.politico.eu/article/poland-court-violence-against-women-istanbul-convention [11] 2020 Rule of Law Report: https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/pl_rol_country_chapter.pdf, President von der Leyen State of the Union Address. [12] https://www.euronews.com/2020/07/29/eu-funding-withheld-from-six-polish-towns-over-lgbtq-free-zones  

Activists in Poland
news_item

| 15 October 2020

Poland - Decision of Constitutional Tribunal may lead to human rights violations (letter to EU institutions)

Letter sent to the Presidents of the European Commission and the Council of the European Union by IPPF EN, CIVICUS and Human Rights Watch: ... Subject: Decision of Constitutional Tribunal, marred with concerns about its independence and legitimacy, may lead to human rights violations in Poland Dear Presidents, We are writing to express our deep concerns and draw your attention to a worrying development in Poland, linked to breaches of independence of the judiciary and the protection of human rights. On 22 October, the Constitutional Tribunal will rule on constitutionality[1] of access to abortion care on the ground of “severe and irreversible foetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the foetus’ life”, as permitted under the current abortion law.[2] The removal of this provision would place women’s health and lives at risk and violate Poland’s international human rights obligations. As rightly noted by the European Commission in its first Annual Report on the matter, “concerns over the independence and legitimacy of the Constitutional Tribunal, raised by the Commission under the Article 7(1) TEU procedure, have so far not been resolved.”[3] The Polish government’s reforms to the judiciary since 2015 have raised serious concerns regarding respect for the rule of law, and led the Commission to launch the procedure under Article 7(1) TEU in 2017, and several infringement procedures in the past years.[4] The Venice Commission has noted that changes to procedures for judicial appointments and the operations of the Constitutional Tribunal have undermined its independence and rendered its work ineffective, including due to excessive executive and legislative control of the Tribunal’s operations.[5] The request to review the constitutionality of the 1993 Family Planning Act was submitted in December 2019 by conservative MPs including from the ruling PiS party. Unresolved concerns over the independence and legitimacy of the Tribunal raise significant risks of politicization of human rights and any forthcoming decision on reproductive health and rights. It is apparent that breaches of the rule of law in Poland, materialised in the longstanding concerns regarding Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, could lead to further violations of other Article 2 TEU values: human rights, human dignity, equality and non-discrimination. This latest development is a clear example of how all EU values are interdependent. We call upon you as EU leaders to stand for and defend all EU values. We urge you to address breaches of the rule of law in all EU Member States, to condemn violations of human rights including women’s human rights and access to sexual and reproductive rights everywhere in the EU, and to ensure that flawed courts cannot be used to undermine the respect for human rights and EU values. In your efforts to safeguard all EU values, we call on you to make use of, and continue to further strengthen, all the legal and political tools that are or could be at your disposal, including the new Rule of Law Cycle[6], the recommendations under the Rule of Law Framework, the Article 7 proceedings and the conditionality of access to EU funds. A decision to ban abortions in case of “severe and irreversible foetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the foetus’ life” would be a retrogressive measure. Poland already has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the EU. Abortion is only permitted on limited grounds, including in cases of severe foetal defect. Over ninety percent of legal abortions performed in Poland are accessed on this ground.[7] Criminalizing abortion on this ground would virtually ban all legal access to abortion care in the country. It would constitute an unprecedented threat to Polish women’s human rights including the rights to life, health, dignity, and non-discrimination and may constitute cruel and inhumane treatment. In practice, women and adolescent girls may have their lives put at risk due to complications as a result of a lack of access to timely and safe abortion care, be forced to give birth against their will[8] or to undergo unsafe abortion procedures, especially those who cannot afford to travel abroad. Poland would further breach numerous provisions of human rights treaties that it undertook to respect.[9] This latest development takes place in a broader context of repeated attempts by the ruling party to roll back human rights, including reproductive rights, women’s human rights and LGBTI rights. In July 2020, Poland announced its intention to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, and asked the Constitutional Tribunal to examine its constitutionality.[10] Poland also repeatedly infringed on LGBTI rights, which has been denounced by the European Commission[11] and led the Commission to withhold EU funds from certain Polish cities.[12] Considering these ongoing breaches of the rule of law and retrogressive initiatives, we call on EU institutions to respond urgently and strongly to such initiatives by Poland and any EU Member States, that would endanger the rights and lives of EU citizens and non-EU nationals living in the EU, and weaken the EU project as a whole.   [1] Firstly, it will assess compliance of the relevant provisions with Art. 30 of the Constitution (right to dignity of a person); then with Art. 38 (protection of life), Art. 31§3 (grounds for limiting freedom), Art. 32 (prohibition of discrimination), Art. 2 (social justice) and Art. 42 (criminal liability); https://trybunal.gov.pl/postepowanie-i-orzeczenia/wokanda/art/11253-planowanie-rodziny-ochrona-plodu-ludzkiego-i-warunki-dopuszczalnosci-przerywania-ciazy [2] Act on Family Planning, the Protection of the Human Fetus, and the Conditions of Admissibility of Abortion of 1993 (1993 Family Planning Act), Article 4a § 1 pt. 2; https://www.reproductiverights.org/sites/crr.civicactions.net/files/documents/Polish%20abortion%20act--English%20translation.pdf [3] 2020 Rule of Law Report: https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/pl_rol_country_chapter.pdf [4] Although notably no infringement procedures were launched in relation to the Constitutional Tribunal. [5] https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-AD(2016)026-e [6] The Rule of Law Mechanism should cover the full scope of Art 2 TEU values, as called for by many civil society organisations and the European Parliament: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2020-0251_EN.html [7] According to the most recent data in 2019 in Poland there were 1100 abortions performed, 1074 of which were carried out on the grounds of foetal impairment. [8] 2018 joint CRPD and CEDAW statement and press release. [9] Among many examples, Poland has already been condemned several times by the European Court of Human Rights regarding access to abortion for breaching the European Convention of Human Rights (Tysiąc v. Poland; R.R. v Poland; P. and S. v Poland), judgements that are yet to be implemented since 13 years. [10] https://www.politico.eu/article/poland-court-violence-against-women-istanbul-convention [11] 2020 Rule of Law Report: https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/pl_rol_country_chapter.pdf, President von der Leyen State of the Union Address. [12] https://www.euronews.com/2020/07/29/eu-funding-withheld-from-six-polish-towns-over-lgbtq-free-zones  

Woman looks out of window
news item

| 12 October 2020

Italy, France and Spain – positive steps on access to contraceptive and abortion care

IPPF EN is very encouraged by a series of positive developments in recent days which show European decision-makers and public bodies supporting the reproductive freedom and safety of women and girls, and rejecting harmful obstacles to care. At a time when other countries in Europe are pursuing retrogressive political agendas, we are heartened by these examples of progressive values shaping the legal frameworks which determine how women and girls access and experience care. Emergency contraception: Italy removes prescription hurdle for minors needing contraceptive care On 8 October, Italy’s national Medicines Agency (Aifa) announced new rules for under-18s needing to access emergency contraception. Adolescent girls will now be able to access this essential care over-the-counter in pharmacies without being required to have a prescription. The Aifa described this step forward as a “turning point for teenagers’ physical and mental health”, and “an ethical measure which will help avoid difficult situations in which girls usually bear the burden by themselves.” The organisation also announced the creation of a much-needed new website to provide information about contraception. (article in La Repubblica here) French Parliament paves the way for boosting women’s access to abortion care Also on 8 October, France’s National Assembly discussed a bill to strengthen the right to abortion. New measures approved in this first reading would include the extension of the legal deadline for access to abortion from 12 to 14 weeks of pregnancy, the possibility for midwives to carry out surgical abortions up to the 10th week, and the removal of the clause that enables care providers to deny women care based on their own personal beliefs. Our French member Le Planning Familial, which has regularly denounced the difficulties that women face in accessing abortion care, strongly supports these proposed new measures. LPF described them as a first step towards aligning with the European countries that have the most women-centred abortion legislation, and doing away with unnecessary hurdles to care: “This first reading of the law is a real step forward for women’s right to control their bodies. Thousands of French women go abroad to have abortions every year. This decision to extend the time limits makes it possible to fight against social inequalities, since not all women can access care abroad, and against territorial inequalities, because all women in Europe should have the same right to safety and reproductive freedom.” (Full statement in French from Le Planning Familial here) The next step will be a vote on the reform in the French Senate. Abortion care: Spain plans to remove 2015 parental consent obstacle for 16 and 17-year-olds Spain’s government has announced its intention to reform the current abortion law to remove a hurdle introduced in 2015 by the ruling Conservative government requiring 16 and 17-year olds to seek parental consent before being able to access abortion care. Equality Minister Irene Montero also announced plans to promote relationships and sexuality education, given its role in protecting young people against the risk of gender-based violence, and to boost contraceptive access and choice. In a statement, our Spanish member the FPFE welcomed the government’s announcement, and hoped that it would be swiftly followed up with action to turn the commitments into reality, reiterating that the current parental consent requirement is a threat to young women's health, safety and autonomy.    On contraceptive care, they noted that the proposal to guarantee “the best possible access to contraception with its “most innovative and effective” forms… would bring the Spanish state closer to the level of access… in other European countries.” The FPFE also called for the announcement to “be accompanied by measures that guarantee public funding of all contraceptive methods…, to end the inequalities between autonomous communities, and of measures that also entail access for all women… regardless of their administrative situation.” (Full FPFE statement here; BBC article here)

Woman looks out of window
news_item

| 12 October 2020

Italy, France and Spain – positive steps on access to contraceptive and abortion care

IPPF EN is very encouraged by a series of positive developments in recent days which show European decision-makers and public bodies supporting the reproductive freedom and safety of women and girls, and rejecting harmful obstacles to care. At a time when other countries in Europe are pursuing retrogressive political agendas, we are heartened by these examples of progressive values shaping the legal frameworks which determine how women and girls access and experience care. Emergency contraception: Italy removes prescription hurdle for minors needing contraceptive care On 8 October, Italy’s national Medicines Agency (Aifa) announced new rules for under-18s needing to access emergency contraception. Adolescent girls will now be able to access this essential care over-the-counter in pharmacies without being required to have a prescription. The Aifa described this step forward as a “turning point for teenagers’ physical and mental health”, and “an ethical measure which will help avoid difficult situations in which girls usually bear the burden by themselves.” The organisation also announced the creation of a much-needed new website to provide information about contraception. (article in La Repubblica here) French Parliament paves the way for boosting women’s access to abortion care Also on 8 October, France’s National Assembly discussed a bill to strengthen the right to abortion. New measures approved in this first reading would include the extension of the legal deadline for access to abortion from 12 to 14 weeks of pregnancy, the possibility for midwives to carry out surgical abortions up to the 10th week, and the removal of the clause that enables care providers to deny women care based on their own personal beliefs. Our French member Le Planning Familial, which has regularly denounced the difficulties that women face in accessing abortion care, strongly supports these proposed new measures. LPF described them as a first step towards aligning with the European countries that have the most women-centred abortion legislation, and doing away with unnecessary hurdles to care: “This first reading of the law is a real step forward for women’s right to control their bodies. Thousands of French women go abroad to have abortions every year. This decision to extend the time limits makes it possible to fight against social inequalities, since not all women can access care abroad, and against territorial inequalities, because all women in Europe should have the same right to safety and reproductive freedom.” (Full statement in French from Le Planning Familial here) The next step will be a vote on the reform in the French Senate. Abortion care: Spain plans to remove 2015 parental consent obstacle for 16 and 17-year-olds Spain’s government has announced its intention to reform the current abortion law to remove a hurdle introduced in 2015 by the ruling Conservative government requiring 16 and 17-year olds to seek parental consent before being able to access abortion care. Equality Minister Irene Montero also announced plans to promote relationships and sexuality education, given its role in protecting young people against the risk of gender-based violence, and to boost contraceptive access and choice. In a statement, our Spanish member the FPFE welcomed the government’s announcement, and hoped that it would be swiftly followed up with action to turn the commitments into reality, reiterating that the current parental consent requirement is a threat to young women's health, safety and autonomy.    On contraceptive care, they noted that the proposal to guarantee “the best possible access to contraception with its “most innovative and effective” forms… would bring the Spanish state closer to the level of access… in other European countries.” The FPFE also called for the announcement to “be accompanied by measures that guarantee public funding of all contraceptive methods…, to end the inequalities between autonomous communities, and of measures that also entail access for all women… regardless of their administrative situation.” (Full FPFE statement here; BBC article here)