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Abortion Care

IPPF works to ensure that every woman and girl has the human right to choose to be pregnant or not and we will continue to supply and support safe and legal abortion services and care. We are committed to reducing the number of deaths of women and girls who are forced to turn to unsafe abortion methods. Make Abortion Safe. Make Abortion Legal. For all Women and Girls. Everywhere.

Articles by Abortion Care

choice
12 May 2022

Turkmenistan ramps up policing of women’s bodies

Turkmen people were hoping that their newly appointed president, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, would pursue a more progressive path than his father, but they were sorely mistaken. Since April 2022, the government has taken policing over women’s bodies to a whole new level: imposing a virtual ban on abortion care, enforcing a ban on a range of beauty services, forbidding women from sitting in the front seat of private cars and prohibiting male taxi drivers from offering rides to women. Abortion care access has been restricted from 12 to just five weeks. Overnight, the government made public a law that had originally been passed in 2015, without any public consultation, meaning that it was practically passed and published in secret. This law effectively bans abortion care, as most people don't even know they are pregnant at 5 weeks. The result is agonising for women, forcing some to continue through pregnancies against their will, while others will have no choice but to go through the system and seek permission for care from a medical committee which delays critical healthcare and puts them at greater risk – with no guarantee that care will be provided. The committee can decide to approve care beyond the 5 weeks on social gounds, very linked to the family situation (eg allowed in case the husband dies, in case of divorce, but also in cases of rape). Women who are not able to access abortion in these circumstances might be forced to find a doctor who can provide the procedure illegally, often at huge costs. The terrifying truth is that women and girls living in countries with restrictive abortion laws are more likely to die because pregnancy is a major medical event where having choice over the care you receive is vital. This act of reproductive coercion is in line with the long held anti-rights agenda of the government, but this latest raft of restrictions are particularly brutal.  They stem from the government’s idea of nation-building, which hinges on harmful gender stereotypes that value women only as mothers and symbols of purity, beauty, and modesty. But make no mistake, at the core this is about control. Women are only valued for their capacity to give birth, raise healthy patriots and thus preserve traditional family values. The reproductive bullying of women is supported by state media propaganda encouraging women to have eight children and by the lack of relationship and sexuality education. Furthermore, 50% of women are denied access to contraception, and a recent study found that nearly 60% of women feel unable to make autonomous decisions on issues like healthcare, contraception, and giving consent to sex.   Turkmenistan failing women and girls on multiple fronts with the world watching Turkmenistan has an abysmal human rights track record with women being treated as second class citizens. With bodily autonomy being steadily stripped away, women and girls are subject to sexual and gender-based violence, virginity tests, forced marriages and prohibited from purchasing cigarettes and obtaining a driver’s licenses.  According to UNICEF and TürkmenStat (MICS), 59% of women in Turkmenistan aged 15-49 say that a husband has the right to hit his wife. There is no law against domestic violence in Turkmenistan, nor are there mechanisms and national programmes to prevent domestic violence. All this shows that women cannot expect support from anywhere and it is safer for them to be silent and tolerate the violence. Governmental agencies do not provide any statistics related to women’s health and gender equality. As noted on the UN Women’s website: “As of December 2020, only 20.6% of indicators needed to monitor the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from a gender perspective were available, with gaps in key areas in Turkmenistan.”  Freedom House has consistently ranked the country at or near the bottom of its Freedom in the World rankings since its independence. And in its 2020 Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkmenistan as 179th out of 180 countries surveyed, only ahead of North Korea. Lastly, civic space in Turkmenistan is rated ‘closed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor. The country lacks anything resembling real civil society and the conditions for it to emerge.   Take action We cannot turn our backs on the people of Turkmenistan.The European Union, its Member States as well as other international bodies must not sit idly by in the face of such egregious attacks on women’s rights. The European Union in particular must uphold its values and use all tools and policies it has at its disposal, including the EU Gender Action Plan, to support Turkmen women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. We must take urgent action, raise our voices, and put pressure on the Turkmen state, so that Turkmen women are not forced to suffer in silence.   Credit illustration: Martina Koleva  

Polish flag
29 November 2021

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

Joint press release by IPPF EN and Civicus.  The Polish Parliament is set to discuss an anti-abortion bill from a religious ultra conservative group to jail women who access abortion and criminalize anyone who helps them do so, including family members, friends and doctors.   The new anti-abortion bill - proposed by Pro - The right to life Foundation - who also put forward a bill two years ago that would criminalize anyone who informs young people about sexuality and relationships - will be discussed in the Polish Parliament's lower chamber during a sitting on 1-2 December. The initiative comes one month after a woman named Izabela - died as a result of Poland’s restrictive abortion law, triggering widespread protests.  The bill aims to enshrine extremist doctrine in law by establishing harsh prison terms in cases of abortion. Despite Izabela’s death and the recent protest about the current virtual abortion ban, the bill’s backers would support imprisoning women for up to 25 years for abortion and 5 years in case of miscarriage - considered ‘manslaughter’. The wording of the proposal could even lead to life imprisonment if the pregnant woman were charged with ‘aggravated murder’.  In addition to introducing prison sentences, the proposal would remove the remaining, extremely limited, exceptions to the ban which currently allow abortion in cases of rape, incest and endangerment of the women’s life or health. This would further paralyse doctors whose hands are already tied in cases of severe foetal impairment. “This is a nightmare scenario for women in Poland because the new bill bears striking similarity to El Salvador’s abortion ban, under which women are incarcerated if they have abortions or miscarriages. If Poland takes such a cruel decision it would simply devastate women and families’ lives,” says Irene Donadio of the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network. It will be relatively straightforward for the Law and Justice party (PiS) and its allies to secure the adoption of the new bill at any time because they control the lower chamber of the parliament and have influence over the Constitutional Tribunal.* In another shocking development, ahead of the Parliamentary sitting, Poland’s health ministry has announced that the government may force all health care professionals to register every pregnancy.  “It’s obvious that this is a well orchestrated plan to put pregnant women under surveillance and then to prosecute them if they decide not to continue a pregnancy or even if they suffer a miscarriage. This insidious strategy will force doctors to inform on their patients and will create terror among pregnant women and those who try to help them to access vital care” continues Donadio.  The Polish government's support of these initiatives has put it on a collision course with the EU. Human rights activists hope the EU will continue to apply pressure ahead of an upcoming state of play on the rule of law in Poland. “We call on the Council of the EU to hold the Polish government accountable for violations of the rule of law and of women’s human rights. The General Affairs Council meeting on December 14 will set the tone for next steps with regards to Poland. We urge the EU Member States not to shy away from taking steps to make sure breaches of the rule of law and vast human rights abuses are not brushed under the carpet,” says Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Researcher Europe, Central Asia, MENA for CIVICUSMonitor.   Press Contact: International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network, in Brussels, Irene Donadio (English, Italian, French, Spanish): +32-491-071-93-90; or [email protected] Twitter: @ippfen   Notes to the editor: * The Law and Justice party (PiS) and its allies have an absolute majority in the lower chamber of the Polish Parliament. This means that the bill could be adopted on a fast track even if all the parties in opposition try to stop it or amend it in the Senate (where the ruling party does not have the majority). The opposition could delay the process for a month in the Senate but they cannot stop the adoption in a second reading in the lower chamber. If the parliamentarians of the ruling party want to disassociate themselves from this new attack on women’s rights they can flout the rule of law and send the bill to the politicized Constitutional Tribunal, having it adopted via the judiciary as they did last year.  For more information on abortion care in Poland, see IPPF EN’s resources, including stories of women human rights defenders. This new anti-abortion bill mirrors a proposal in 2016 that was met with massive public protests, forcing the government to abandon it. At that time, even the Polish Catholic Church witheld its support for the proposal because it would have jailed women for accessing abortion. Yet, in spite of the obvious lack of support both from the public and bishops, this latest ultra conservative bill is much harsher, mandating considerably higher prison sentences.  A bill proposing the creation of the "Family and Demography Institute" will be discussed during the same sitting of the lower chamber on December 1-2. The Institute is expected to be led by right wing fundamentalist parliamentarian Bartłomiej Wróblewski, the author of the motion to the pseudo - Constitutional Tribunal which has resulted in the current virtual ban on abortion. The head of the institute will be able to intervene as a prosecutor in court proceedings and in administrative processes regarding divorce or adoption filings (could decide over whether or not to grant a divorce and will be able to bring cases against LGBT parents - demanding that they be deprived of their parental rights). The head of the Institute will have access to data collected by any entity in Poland regarding pregnancies and miscarriages. The goal of the institute is to increase Poland's birth rate.

EP Poland
19 October 2021

Poland: A Year On, Abortion Ruling Harms Women

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

MEPs Poland support
26 January 2022

Regression on Abortion Access Harms Women in Poland

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

defend the defenders
17 February 2022

Women human rights defenders fight for sexual and reproductive freedom in Poland

Human rights defenders in Poland have been working tirelessly for years to fight the dismantling of the rule of law and human rights. They continue to do so in the face of increasing oppression, orchestrated and encouraged by the government – including intimidation, detention, and criminal charges. Many have been subjected to threats and attacks, both from state actors and far-right groups. The Polish Women’s Strike and other organisations have received bomb threats and now need to have security at their buildings. Activists are also being targeted with smear campaigns in state-owned media. The actions of the police have been insufficient to ensure their protection. These are their stories.

IWD Poland
15 February 2022

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

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

Poland MBK
27 January 2022

Poland's virtual abortion ban harms women and paralyses doctors

Today marks one year since the Polish government virtually abolished access to abortion care on the basis of an illegal, disputed decision by the country’s constitutional tribunal. The change in law makes it impossible for women to access abortion care on the grounds of severe foetal impairment and threatens doctors who provide it in such cases with three years in prison. Abortion is now only permitted in situations where the life or health of the pregnant person is at risk, or where a pregnancy is the result of sexual assault or incest. Recently a new bill to outlaw even these conditions was discussed, though not adopted. Human rights defenders report a dramatic chilling effect on the health system, as doctors hold back from seeking and providing essential care due to fear of repercussions. Many women are now scared to get pregnant at all, due to the possibility of complications that would make their lives dependent on a doctor’s decision to help. They don’t want to be the next Izabela: a pregnant woman who died in September 2021 of septic shock. Doctors did not perform an emergency abortion to save Izabela’s life even though she was miscarrying. They are now being investigated for manslaughter. In that case, the hospital’s defence lawyers pointed to the change in law, stressing that all medical decisions were made in line with the legal provisions in Poland. The hard truth is that the ban on abortion care is having a devastating knock-on effect on all aspects of reproductive health, isolating women and their families. Women report difficulties with antenatal testing, which is also being performed in dramatically fewer numbers since the ban. This was the situation faced by 27-year-old Anna (not her real name). Doctors discovered that her partner had chromosomal complications, meaning there was a high risk that her baby would die shortly after birth. With no right to decide whether to continue a pregnancy if this happens, Anna is now afraid even to try. The constant attacks on sexual and reproductive rights also have a huge mental health cost. In December 2021, a pregnant woman carrying a foetus with the lethal diagnosis of acrania (lack of a developed skull) was denied an abortion due to the current restrictions. She was refused this despite having received two psychiatric certificates attesting to her deteriorating mental health, which constituted a threat to her. Eventually, she was able to receive the care she desperately needed in a different hospital, and only after reaching out to Polish women’s rights groups for help. The state’s control over hospitals contributes to the overall atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Last December, a Warsaw hospital was subjected to an audit by the authorities of its medical files on abortion. When the hospital questioned the relevance of these inquiries and the media was alerted, the procedure was suspended. Polish doctors are now living in fear of providing their patients with the full range of reproductive care. It is their duty to provide protection, especially when the government has failed women. We urge doctors to abide by their duty of care and defend the health and lives of their patients. At the moment, brave civil society organisations (CSOs) and human rights defenders – with limited resources - are the only ones women and doctors can rely on. Extremely courageous groups of women’s rights activists such as Abortion Without Borders, under enormous pressure to fulfil the healthcare needs unmet by the state, are running helplines to assist women with all kinds of reproductive health queries and help them access abortion care. One organisation, the Federation for Women and Family Planning, is building a coalition of women-friendly doctors willing to help patients in these challenging circumstances. Meanwhile, angry Polish citizens have managed to gather over 100,000 signatures for a civic initiative bill that would expand abortion rights. They will continue to fight until women and families in Poland feel free and safe, and until their fellow citizens are granted the same basic rights as other Europeans.   View originally published in Euronews. Credit photo: MBK

Alert for Poland
26 January 2022

Regression on Abortion Access Harms Women in Poland

26 January 2022 – One year after the ruling of Poland’s discredited Constitutional Tribunal banning access to abortion in almost all circumstances took effect, its devastating impact on the lives of women and all those in need of abortion care continues. The ruling has increased the extreme barriers women seeking access to abortion face and has had tragic consequences for many of them and their families. Since the ruling took effect on 27 January 2021, more than 1000 women have turned to the European Court of Human Rights in an effort to vindicate their rights, challenging Poland’s highly restrictive abortion law and seeking justice. These groundbreaking cases mark the first direct challenges to be filed before the European Court against Poland’s abortion law and the 2020 Constitutional Tribunal ruling. The applicants claim that the Polish abortion law causes them grave harm and violates their rights to privacy and freedom from torture and other ill-treatment. The Court is expected to begin ruling on some of these cases: K.B. v. Poland and 3 other applications; K.C. v. Poland and 3 other applications; and A.L.- B. v. Poland and 3 other applications. Nine leading international human rights organizations have filed third-party interventions to the European Court of Human Rights in these cases, including Amnesty International, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network (IPPF EN), Women Enabled International, Women’s Link Worldwide, and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The interventions provide evidence and analysis drawing on international human rights law, comparative European law and guidelines from the World Health Organization. They outline the profound implications that highly restrictive abortion laws have on the lives and health of women and girls of reproductive age.  

1 year since abortion ban
14 October 2021

How women are suffering for human rights in Poland

In its latest politically motivated ruling, Poland's Constitutional Tribunal last week ruled that the Polish Constitution was not subject to EU law. This is only the most recent in a series of developments that trample on the rule of law and human rights in Poland, rubber stamped by a tribunal riddled with ruling Law and Justice (PiS)-party supporters. Hundreds of thousands of people are taking to the streets in Poland to protest against this. Authorities have responded with detentions and physical violence reminiscent of their response to the pro-abortion protests in October 2020. Nine people have been detained thus far, including an LGBTIQ activist, and authorities have taken down the names of 71 people who were protesting. Far-right groups have again organised counter-actions impeding peaceful protesters, with little reaction from police forces. The Polish government has long been in dispute with the EU, repeatedly refusing to implement rulings of the EU's Court of Justice, including one to withdraw the PiS-dominated judicial Disciplinary Chamber, which threatens and intimidates Polish judges, undermining their independence. The government has also forced out of office its Ombudsman who acted as a watchdog for human rights. And it is now working to withdraw from an internationally recognised convention protecting women from violence. The crippling of the rule of law is having real-life consequences for Polish citizens, and women human rights defenders (WHRDs) are the biggest casualties. The 22 October 2020 Constitutional Tribunal decision to impose a near-total ban on abortion was a massive attack on women's sexual and reproductive rights. The result is agonising for women and their families. Some are forced to continue pregnancies against their will, including in cases of fatal or severe foetal impairment. Others have no choice but to travel abroad to seek care, if they have the financial means to do so, or to seek unsafe abortions. The ban needlessly increased the suffering of women and sparked massive protests throughout the country. And a year after these protests, WHRDs face many threats and attacks both from the state and non-state groups. The abortion ban has helped create a climate that is more permissive of attacks on women's rights. The authorities have repeatedly used excessive force and physical violence against protesters, who have been targeted by police officers. WHRDs are facing criminal charges from politically appointed prosecutors, while charges against police and far-right groups who perpetrated violence against them are being dropped. WHRDs' lives continue to be threatened by extremists.   Emotional burnout Many have been on the receiving end of rape and death threats and bomb scares over their activism. Their financial livelihoods have been affected, with some women losing their jobs or being publicly ostracised for their participation in protests. Many are on the brink of mental and emotional burnout. This is the heavy price that Polish women are paying for trying to stand up for the rule of law and civic freedoms in the face of the government's onslaught. Marta Lempart, co-founder of the Polish Women's Strike (Strajk Kobiet) recently told the European Parliament about the consequences of ongoing activism: "This is hard ... We lose our jobs, our families suffer, we are being detained, we are being beaten up, we are tear gassed, we put our bodies on the line, we put our lives on the line", she said. "The Polish state treats us as enemies ... We are freedom fighters," Lempart said. Lempart is facing close to 80 criminal charges for her own role in the protests. The charges against her are undoubtedly an attempt to silence and intimidate her and other WHRDs. Lempart has not been able to return to her home because she "fears being killed". Nadia, a 21-year old WHRD, also received death and rape threats. "Every time I check my email and see another threat, I become more and more frightened and overwhelmed," the activist said. The authorities are not offering the women any protection from violence. The degradation of the rule of law in Poland only makes such attacks more likely, and makes it less likely that perpetrators will be held to account. Despite these life-altering circumstances, WHRDs are demonstrating that the fight is far from over. WHRDs from the Polish Women's Strike have been collecting signatures throughout this month for a bill that would reverse the abortion ban. A total of 100,000 citizen signatures need to be collected for the new bill to be introduced to the assembly for debate.    Increase EU support Polish WHRDs are looking to the EU to stand up for their rights, but the most recent Constitutional Tribunal ruling once again demonstrates the Polish government's complete disregard for EU rules and values. The government continues to ask for huge amounts of aid from the EU's Covid Recovery Fund even as it is, in effect, trying to unilaterally renegotiate the terms of its membership, and undermining the independent judicial oversight that safeguards against corruption. But many Polish citizens are saying enough is enough. Just as they massively protested against the abortion ban, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets all over Poland last weekend to protest against a 'legal Polexit'. The EU must stand with Polish citizens in this fight. Polish WHRDs and citizens need more than statements from EU leaders: they need protection, resources, continuous pressure, and urgent action. While the rule of law remains under attack, the EU must not back down. It must continue to withhold the recovery funding and must immediately impose conditions on other EU money going to Poland. These funds should bypass the government and be redirected to Polish groups who respect and uphold EU values. This means the EU must urgently increase its financial support for civil society and WHRDs on the ground. Their survival is key to the survival of the rule of law in Poland, and to any hopes the EU has of making its values count for something.   By: Camille Butin is an advocacy advisor at the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network Network. Aarti Narsee is a researcher at CIVICUS Monitor. Originally published in the EU Observer.

Iwona Ochocka Gdańsk Pamela Palma Zapata21.jpg
08 July 2021

Iwona: Teacher With A Mission

Women’s rights defenders in Poland have faced violence from law enforcement and far-right groups, as well as smear campaigns in state-controlled media and excessive criminal charges. This harassment has been orchestrated and encouraged by the government. This is Iwona's story. For Iwona, the last six months have been the toughest of her life – emotionally, physically and financially. Iwona has been actively involved in the Women’s Strike movement – the biggest women and social justice movement revolt since the 80s – in a small town with 60,279 inhabitants – ever since Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, dominated by right-wing judges and backed by Julia Przyłębska who presides over the illegitimate Constitutional Tribunal, banned abortion on the grounds of foetal abnormality on 22 October 2020. Since then, the teacher turned activist has organised six “Walk for Freedom and Women’s Rights” protests in her home city. The first of these was held on Sunday 25 October amassing around two thousand people. Three days later, after President Kaczynski's famous "address", where he urged Neo Nazis to defend the churches from “Bad feminist abortion b**ches from hell”, about 5,000 people came to "walk" with the activist, holding a banner: "Forgive the obstruction, Tczew has a government to overthrow".   Someone Had To Light The First Match As the headmistress of a non-public school, she was previously only known within the teaching community. Iwona had yet to catch on to the growing feminist movement in Poland kickstarted by the first All-Poland Women’s Strike (Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet, OSK) in 2016 against proposed legislation to tighten abortion laws. However, two years later she was protesting to defend courts free from political influence, the rights of teachers, and the rights of LGBTQI+ people. She travelled to Poland’s Tri-City area for Manifa, an annual demonstration organized around International Women’s Day on March 8 and across Poland for Gay Pride marches. There have never been such large-scale demonstrations in Tczew before, especially anti-government ones. Iwona admits that she herself was surprised by the turnout and the response to the slogan: “I took part in the protests anonymously, without party symbols. First in a rainbow mask, then one bearing a lightning bolt. I didn’t want to appear party-affiliated. The demands were more important than the emblems. My data was later leaked by a Tczew paper, the local propaganda mouthpiece of the PiS (Law and Justice) Party.” Tczew has a population of around 53,000. During one of the protests Iwona “brought” almost 10% of the community onto the streets, much to the annoyance of a prominent and unscrupulous Member of Parliament (MP) from PiS, who is also a dangerous Catholic fundamentalist, chauvinist and homophobe. The activist and her entire family were immediately affected by the street actions.   PiS Won’t Forgive And Forget Soon after the first protests, Iwona’s husband lost his job at a state-owned company. “His qualifications relate to big industry, which at the moment either has ties to the authorities or belongs to the authorities,” says Iwona. In response, on 15 November, over 300 people took to the streets of Tczew in solidarity. Although encouraging, it did little to change the situation. He became one of the “unemployables”. In turn, a government-run campaign was unleashed against her and continues. Disciplinary proceedings against her by the Board of Education are underway. In November, she was officially charged with incitement to animal abuse. An absurd move, which was orchestrated by the same fundamentalist PiS MP,  Kazimierz Smolinski. Over several months, the teacher has been summoned to successive “hearings” at the Department of Education. She is now at risk of losing her teaching licence. This is a textbook example of the regime’s repression of rebellious citizens.

choice
12 May 2022

Turkmenistan ramps up policing of women’s bodies

Turkmen people were hoping that their newly appointed president, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, would pursue a more progressive path than his father, but they were sorely mistaken. Since April 2022, the government has taken policing over women’s bodies to a whole new level: imposing a virtual ban on abortion care, enforcing a ban on a range of beauty services, forbidding women from sitting in the front seat of private cars and prohibiting male taxi drivers from offering rides to women. Abortion care access has been restricted from 12 to just five weeks. Overnight, the government made public a law that had originally been passed in 2015, without any public consultation, meaning that it was practically passed and published in secret. This law effectively bans abortion care, as most people don't even know they are pregnant at 5 weeks. The result is agonising for women, forcing some to continue through pregnancies against their will, while others will have no choice but to go through the system and seek permission for care from a medical committee which delays critical healthcare and puts them at greater risk – with no guarantee that care will be provided. The committee can decide to approve care beyond the 5 weeks on social gounds, very linked to the family situation (eg allowed in case the husband dies, in case of divorce, but also in cases of rape). Women who are not able to access abortion in these circumstances might be forced to find a doctor who can provide the procedure illegally, often at huge costs. The terrifying truth is that women and girls living in countries with restrictive abortion laws are more likely to die because pregnancy is a major medical event where having choice over the care you receive is vital. This act of reproductive coercion is in line with the long held anti-rights agenda of the government, but this latest raft of restrictions are particularly brutal.  They stem from the government’s idea of nation-building, which hinges on harmful gender stereotypes that value women only as mothers and symbols of purity, beauty, and modesty. But make no mistake, at the core this is about control. Women are only valued for their capacity to give birth, raise healthy patriots and thus preserve traditional family values. The reproductive bullying of women is supported by state media propaganda encouraging women to have eight children and by the lack of relationship and sexuality education. Furthermore, 50% of women are denied access to contraception, and a recent study found that nearly 60% of women feel unable to make autonomous decisions on issues like healthcare, contraception, and giving consent to sex.   Turkmenistan failing women and girls on multiple fronts with the world watching Turkmenistan has an abysmal human rights track record with women being treated as second class citizens. With bodily autonomy being steadily stripped away, women and girls are subject to sexual and gender-based violence, virginity tests, forced marriages and prohibited from purchasing cigarettes and obtaining a driver’s licenses.  According to UNICEF and TürkmenStat (MICS), 59% of women in Turkmenistan aged 15-49 say that a husband has the right to hit his wife. There is no law against domestic violence in Turkmenistan, nor are there mechanisms and national programmes to prevent domestic violence. All this shows that women cannot expect support from anywhere and it is safer for them to be silent and tolerate the violence. Governmental agencies do not provide any statistics related to women’s health and gender equality. As noted on the UN Women’s website: “As of December 2020, only 20.6% of indicators needed to monitor the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from a gender perspective were available, with gaps in key areas in Turkmenistan.”  Freedom House has consistently ranked the country at or near the bottom of its Freedom in the World rankings since its independence. And in its 2020 Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkmenistan as 179th out of 180 countries surveyed, only ahead of North Korea. Lastly, civic space in Turkmenistan is rated ‘closed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor. The country lacks anything resembling real civil society and the conditions for it to emerge.   Take action We cannot turn our backs on the people of Turkmenistan.The European Union, its Member States as well as other international bodies must not sit idly by in the face of such egregious attacks on women’s rights. The European Union in particular must uphold its values and use all tools and policies it has at its disposal, including the EU Gender Action Plan, to support Turkmen women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. We must take urgent action, raise our voices, and put pressure on the Turkmen state, so that Turkmen women are not forced to suffer in silence.   Credit illustration: Martina Koleva  

Polish flag
29 November 2021

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

Joint press release by IPPF EN and Civicus.  The Polish Parliament is set to discuss an anti-abortion bill from a religious ultra conservative group to jail women who access abortion and criminalize anyone who helps them do so, including family members, friends and doctors.   The new anti-abortion bill - proposed by Pro - The right to life Foundation - who also put forward a bill two years ago that would criminalize anyone who informs young people about sexuality and relationships - will be discussed in the Polish Parliament's lower chamber during a sitting on 1-2 December. The initiative comes one month after a woman named Izabela - died as a result of Poland’s restrictive abortion law, triggering widespread protests.  The bill aims to enshrine extremist doctrine in law by establishing harsh prison terms in cases of abortion. Despite Izabela’s death and the recent protest about the current virtual abortion ban, the bill’s backers would support imprisoning women for up to 25 years for abortion and 5 years in case of miscarriage - considered ‘manslaughter’. The wording of the proposal could even lead to life imprisonment if the pregnant woman were charged with ‘aggravated murder’.  In addition to introducing prison sentences, the proposal would remove the remaining, extremely limited, exceptions to the ban which currently allow abortion in cases of rape, incest and endangerment of the women’s life or health. This would further paralyse doctors whose hands are already tied in cases of severe foetal impairment. “This is a nightmare scenario for women in Poland because the new bill bears striking similarity to El Salvador’s abortion ban, under which women are incarcerated if they have abortions or miscarriages. If Poland takes such a cruel decision it would simply devastate women and families’ lives,” says Irene Donadio of the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network. It will be relatively straightforward for the Law and Justice party (PiS) and its allies to secure the adoption of the new bill at any time because they control the lower chamber of the parliament and have influence over the Constitutional Tribunal.* In another shocking development, ahead of the Parliamentary sitting, Poland’s health ministry has announced that the government may force all health care professionals to register every pregnancy.  “It’s obvious that this is a well orchestrated plan to put pregnant women under surveillance and then to prosecute them if they decide not to continue a pregnancy or even if they suffer a miscarriage. This insidious strategy will force doctors to inform on their patients and will create terror among pregnant women and those who try to help them to access vital care” continues Donadio.  The Polish government's support of these initiatives has put it on a collision course with the EU. Human rights activists hope the EU will continue to apply pressure ahead of an upcoming state of play on the rule of law in Poland. “We call on the Council of the EU to hold the Polish government accountable for violations of the rule of law and of women’s human rights. The General Affairs Council meeting on December 14 will set the tone for next steps with regards to Poland. We urge the EU Member States not to shy away from taking steps to make sure breaches of the rule of law and vast human rights abuses are not brushed under the carpet,” says Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Researcher Europe, Central Asia, MENA for CIVICUSMonitor.   Press Contact: International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network, in Brussels, Irene Donadio (English, Italian, French, Spanish): +32-491-071-93-90; or [email protected] Twitter: @ippfen   Notes to the editor: * The Law and Justice party (PiS) and its allies have an absolute majority in the lower chamber of the Polish Parliament. This means that the bill could be adopted on a fast track even if all the parties in opposition try to stop it or amend it in the Senate (where the ruling party does not have the majority). The opposition could delay the process for a month in the Senate but they cannot stop the adoption in a second reading in the lower chamber. If the parliamentarians of the ruling party want to disassociate themselves from this new attack on women’s rights they can flout the rule of law and send the bill to the politicized Constitutional Tribunal, having it adopted via the judiciary as they did last year.  For more information on abortion care in Poland, see IPPF EN’s resources, including stories of women human rights defenders. This new anti-abortion bill mirrors a proposal in 2016 that was met with massive public protests, forcing the government to abandon it. At that time, even the Polish Catholic Church witheld its support for the proposal because it would have jailed women for accessing abortion. Yet, in spite of the obvious lack of support both from the public and bishops, this latest ultra conservative bill is much harsher, mandating considerably higher prison sentences.  A bill proposing the creation of the "Family and Demography Institute" will be discussed during the same sitting of the lower chamber on December 1-2. The Institute is expected to be led by right wing fundamentalist parliamentarian Bartłomiej Wróblewski, the author of the motion to the pseudo - Constitutional Tribunal which has resulted in the current virtual ban on abortion. The head of the institute will be able to intervene as a prosecutor in court proceedings and in administrative processes regarding divorce or adoption filings (could decide over whether or not to grant a divorce and will be able to bring cases against LGBT parents - demanding that they be deprived of their parental rights). The head of the Institute will have access to data collected by any entity in Poland regarding pregnancies and miscarriages. The goal of the institute is to increase Poland's birth rate.

EP Poland
19 October 2021

Poland: A Year On, Abortion Ruling Harms Women

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

MEPs Poland support
26 January 2022

Regression on Abortion Access Harms Women in Poland

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

defend the defenders
17 February 2022

Women human rights defenders fight for sexual and reproductive freedom in Poland

Human rights defenders in Poland have been working tirelessly for years to fight the dismantling of the rule of law and human rights. They continue to do so in the face of increasing oppression, orchestrated and encouraged by the government – including intimidation, detention, and criminal charges. Many have been subjected to threats and attacks, both from state actors and far-right groups. The Polish Women’s Strike and other organisations have received bomb threats and now need to have security at their buildings. Activists are also being targeted with smear campaigns in state-owned media. The actions of the police have been insufficient to ensure their protection. These are their stories.

IWD Poland
15 February 2022

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

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

Poland MBK
27 January 2022

Poland's virtual abortion ban harms women and paralyses doctors

Today marks one year since the Polish government virtually abolished access to abortion care on the basis of an illegal, disputed decision by the country’s constitutional tribunal. The change in law makes it impossible for women to access abortion care on the grounds of severe foetal impairment and threatens doctors who provide it in such cases with three years in prison. Abortion is now only permitted in situations where the life or health of the pregnant person is at risk, or where a pregnancy is the result of sexual assault or incest. Recently a new bill to outlaw even these conditions was discussed, though not adopted. Human rights defenders report a dramatic chilling effect on the health system, as doctors hold back from seeking and providing essential care due to fear of repercussions. Many women are now scared to get pregnant at all, due to the possibility of complications that would make their lives dependent on a doctor’s decision to help. They don’t want to be the next Izabela: a pregnant woman who died in September 2021 of septic shock. Doctors did not perform an emergency abortion to save Izabela’s life even though she was miscarrying. They are now being investigated for manslaughter. In that case, the hospital’s defence lawyers pointed to the change in law, stressing that all medical decisions were made in line with the legal provisions in Poland. The hard truth is that the ban on abortion care is having a devastating knock-on effect on all aspects of reproductive health, isolating women and their families. Women report difficulties with antenatal testing, which is also being performed in dramatically fewer numbers since the ban. This was the situation faced by 27-year-old Anna (not her real name). Doctors discovered that her partner had chromosomal complications, meaning there was a high risk that her baby would die shortly after birth. With no right to decide whether to continue a pregnancy if this happens, Anna is now afraid even to try. The constant attacks on sexual and reproductive rights also have a huge mental health cost. In December 2021, a pregnant woman carrying a foetus with the lethal diagnosis of acrania (lack of a developed skull) was denied an abortion due to the current restrictions. She was refused this despite having received two psychiatric certificates attesting to her deteriorating mental health, which constituted a threat to her. Eventually, she was able to receive the care she desperately needed in a different hospital, and only after reaching out to Polish women’s rights groups for help. The state’s control over hospitals contributes to the overall atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Last December, a Warsaw hospital was subjected to an audit by the authorities of its medical files on abortion. When the hospital questioned the relevance of these inquiries and the media was alerted, the procedure was suspended. Polish doctors are now living in fear of providing their patients with the full range of reproductive care. It is their duty to provide protection, especially when the government has failed women. We urge doctors to abide by their duty of care and defend the health and lives of their patients. At the moment, brave civil society organisations (CSOs) and human rights defenders – with limited resources - are the only ones women and doctors can rely on. Extremely courageous groups of women’s rights activists such as Abortion Without Borders, under enormous pressure to fulfil the healthcare needs unmet by the state, are running helplines to assist women with all kinds of reproductive health queries and help them access abortion care. One organisation, the Federation for Women and Family Planning, is building a coalition of women-friendly doctors willing to help patients in these challenging circumstances. Meanwhile, angry Polish citizens have managed to gather over 100,000 signatures for a civic initiative bill that would expand abortion rights. They will continue to fight until women and families in Poland feel free and safe, and until their fellow citizens are granted the same basic rights as other Europeans.   View originally published in Euronews. Credit photo: MBK

Alert for Poland
26 January 2022

Regression on Abortion Access Harms Women in Poland

26 January 2022 – One year after the ruling of Poland’s discredited Constitutional Tribunal banning access to abortion in almost all circumstances took effect, its devastating impact on the lives of women and all those in need of abortion care continues. The ruling has increased the extreme barriers women seeking access to abortion face and has had tragic consequences for many of them and their families. Since the ruling took effect on 27 January 2021, more than 1000 women have turned to the European Court of Human Rights in an effort to vindicate their rights, challenging Poland’s highly restrictive abortion law and seeking justice. These groundbreaking cases mark the first direct challenges to be filed before the European Court against Poland’s abortion law and the 2020 Constitutional Tribunal ruling. The applicants claim that the Polish abortion law causes them grave harm and violates their rights to privacy and freedom from torture and other ill-treatment. The Court is expected to begin ruling on some of these cases: K.B. v. Poland and 3 other applications; K.C. v. Poland and 3 other applications; and A.L.- B. v. Poland and 3 other applications. Nine leading international human rights organizations have filed third-party interventions to the European Court of Human Rights in these cases, including Amnesty International, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network (IPPF EN), Women Enabled International, Women’s Link Worldwide, and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The interventions provide evidence and analysis drawing on international human rights law, comparative European law and guidelines from the World Health Organization. They outline the profound implications that highly restrictive abortion laws have on the lives and health of women and girls of reproductive age.  

1 year since abortion ban
14 October 2021

How women are suffering for human rights in Poland

In its latest politically motivated ruling, Poland's Constitutional Tribunal last week ruled that the Polish Constitution was not subject to EU law. This is only the most recent in a series of developments that trample on the rule of law and human rights in Poland, rubber stamped by a tribunal riddled with ruling Law and Justice (PiS)-party supporters. Hundreds of thousands of people are taking to the streets in Poland to protest against this. Authorities have responded with detentions and physical violence reminiscent of their response to the pro-abortion protests in October 2020. Nine people have been detained thus far, including an LGBTIQ activist, and authorities have taken down the names of 71 people who were protesting. Far-right groups have again organised counter-actions impeding peaceful protesters, with little reaction from police forces. The Polish government has long been in dispute with the EU, repeatedly refusing to implement rulings of the EU's Court of Justice, including one to withdraw the PiS-dominated judicial Disciplinary Chamber, which threatens and intimidates Polish judges, undermining their independence. The government has also forced out of office its Ombudsman who acted as a watchdog for human rights. And it is now working to withdraw from an internationally recognised convention protecting women from violence. The crippling of the rule of law is having real-life consequences for Polish citizens, and women human rights defenders (WHRDs) are the biggest casualties. The 22 October 2020 Constitutional Tribunal decision to impose a near-total ban on abortion was a massive attack on women's sexual and reproductive rights. The result is agonising for women and their families. Some are forced to continue pregnancies against their will, including in cases of fatal or severe foetal impairment. Others have no choice but to travel abroad to seek care, if they have the financial means to do so, or to seek unsafe abortions. The ban needlessly increased the suffering of women and sparked massive protests throughout the country. And a year after these protests, WHRDs face many threats and attacks both from the state and non-state groups. The abortion ban has helped create a climate that is more permissive of attacks on women's rights. The authorities have repeatedly used excessive force and physical violence against protesters, who have been targeted by police officers. WHRDs are facing criminal charges from politically appointed prosecutors, while charges against police and far-right groups who perpetrated violence against them are being dropped. WHRDs' lives continue to be threatened by extremists.   Emotional burnout Many have been on the receiving end of rape and death threats and bomb scares over their activism. Their financial livelihoods have been affected, with some women losing their jobs or being publicly ostracised for their participation in protests. Many are on the brink of mental and emotional burnout. This is the heavy price that Polish women are paying for trying to stand up for the rule of law and civic freedoms in the face of the government's onslaught. Marta Lempart, co-founder of the Polish Women's Strike (Strajk Kobiet) recently told the European Parliament about the consequences of ongoing activism: "This is hard ... We lose our jobs, our families suffer, we are being detained, we are being beaten up, we are tear gassed, we put our bodies on the line, we put our lives on the line", she said. "The Polish state treats us as enemies ... We are freedom fighters," Lempart said. Lempart is facing close to 80 criminal charges for her own role in the protests. The charges against her are undoubtedly an attempt to silence and intimidate her and other WHRDs. Lempart has not been able to return to her home because she "fears being killed". Nadia, a 21-year old WHRD, also received death and rape threats. "Every time I check my email and see another threat, I become more and more frightened and overwhelmed," the activist said. The authorities are not offering the women any protection from violence. The degradation of the rule of law in Poland only makes such attacks more likely, and makes it less likely that perpetrators will be held to account. Despite these life-altering circumstances, WHRDs are demonstrating that the fight is far from over. WHRDs from the Polish Women's Strike have been collecting signatures throughout this month for a bill that would reverse the abortion ban. A total of 100,000 citizen signatures need to be collected for the new bill to be introduced to the assembly for debate.    Increase EU support Polish WHRDs are looking to the EU to stand up for their rights, but the most recent Constitutional Tribunal ruling once again demonstrates the Polish government's complete disregard for EU rules and values. The government continues to ask for huge amounts of aid from the EU's Covid Recovery Fund even as it is, in effect, trying to unilaterally renegotiate the terms of its membership, and undermining the independent judicial oversight that safeguards against corruption. But many Polish citizens are saying enough is enough. Just as they massively protested against the abortion ban, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets all over Poland last weekend to protest against a 'legal Polexit'. The EU must stand with Polish citizens in this fight. Polish WHRDs and citizens need more than statements from EU leaders: they need protection, resources, continuous pressure, and urgent action. While the rule of law remains under attack, the EU must not back down. It must continue to withhold the recovery funding and must immediately impose conditions on other EU money going to Poland. These funds should bypass the government and be redirected to Polish groups who respect and uphold EU values. This means the EU must urgently increase its financial support for civil society and WHRDs on the ground. Their survival is key to the survival of the rule of law in Poland, and to any hopes the EU has of making its values count for something.   By: Camille Butin is an advocacy advisor at the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network Network. Aarti Narsee is a researcher at CIVICUS Monitor. Originally published in the EU Observer.

Iwona Ochocka Gdańsk Pamela Palma Zapata21.jpg
08 July 2021

Iwona: Teacher With A Mission

Women’s rights defenders in Poland have faced violence from law enforcement and far-right groups, as well as smear campaigns in state-controlled media and excessive criminal charges. This harassment has been orchestrated and encouraged by the government. This is Iwona's story. For Iwona, the last six months have been the toughest of her life – emotionally, physically and financially. Iwona has been actively involved in the Women’s Strike movement – the biggest women and social justice movement revolt since the 80s – in a small town with 60,279 inhabitants – ever since Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, dominated by right-wing judges and backed by Julia Przyłębska who presides over the illegitimate Constitutional Tribunal, banned abortion on the grounds of foetal abnormality on 22 October 2020. Since then, the teacher turned activist has organised six “Walk for Freedom and Women’s Rights” protests in her home city. The first of these was held on Sunday 25 October amassing around two thousand people. Three days later, after President Kaczynski's famous "address", where he urged Neo Nazis to defend the churches from “Bad feminist abortion b**ches from hell”, about 5,000 people came to "walk" with the activist, holding a banner: "Forgive the obstruction, Tczew has a government to overthrow".   Someone Had To Light The First Match As the headmistress of a non-public school, she was previously only known within the teaching community. Iwona had yet to catch on to the growing feminist movement in Poland kickstarted by the first All-Poland Women’s Strike (Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet, OSK) in 2016 against proposed legislation to tighten abortion laws. However, two years later she was protesting to defend courts free from political influence, the rights of teachers, and the rights of LGBTQI+ people. She travelled to Poland’s Tri-City area for Manifa, an annual demonstration organized around International Women’s Day on March 8 and across Poland for Gay Pride marches. There have never been such large-scale demonstrations in Tczew before, especially anti-government ones. Iwona admits that she herself was surprised by the turnout and the response to the slogan: “I took part in the protests anonymously, without party symbols. First in a rainbow mask, then one bearing a lightning bolt. I didn’t want to appear party-affiliated. The demands were more important than the emblems. My data was later leaked by a Tczew paper, the local propaganda mouthpiece of the PiS (Law and Justice) Party.” Tczew has a population of around 53,000. During one of the protests Iwona “brought” almost 10% of the community onto the streets, much to the annoyance of a prominent and unscrupulous Member of Parliament (MP) from PiS, who is also a dangerous Catholic fundamentalist, chauvinist and homophobe. The activist and her entire family were immediately affected by the street actions.   PiS Won’t Forgive And Forget Soon after the first protests, Iwona’s husband lost his job at a state-owned company. “His qualifications relate to big industry, which at the moment either has ties to the authorities or belongs to the authorities,” says Iwona. In response, on 15 November, over 300 people took to the streets of Tczew in solidarity. Although encouraging, it did little to change the situation. He became one of the “unemployables”. In turn, a government-run campaign was unleashed against her and continues. Disciplinary proceedings against her by the Board of Education are underway. In November, she was officially charged with incitement to animal abuse. An absurd move, which was orchestrated by the same fundamentalist PiS MP,  Kazimierz Smolinski. Over several months, the teacher has been summoned to successive “hearings” at the Department of Education. She is now at risk of losing her teaching licence. This is a textbook example of the regime’s repression of rebellious citizens.