A piece in today’s Times:
Protesters clashed with police outside the home of Poland’s ruling party chief last night after the country’s top constitutional court ruled to almost entirely outlaw abortion.
The Constitutional Tribunal decided that abortion in cases of foetal defects was unconstitutional, abolishing the most common legal basis for the procedure. The ruling means that Poland will only permit abortions in cases of rape or incest, or when the mother’s health is at risk.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets of the capital, Warsaw, marching from the court past the ruling party headquarters and then towards the home of Jarosław Kaczyński, chairman of the ruling Law and Justice party. Police then set up cordons, fired tear gas and arrested more than a dozen people as protesters tried to reach his address.
Only 10 per cent to 15 per cent of Poles backed further restrictions, while 30 per cent to 40 per cent would have liberalised laws, according to opinion polls in the predominantly Catholic country.
The Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights said that it was “a sad day for women’s rights”, while Polish opposition politicians accused the government of “legalising torture through the back door”. The president welcomed the court’s binding decision as “taking the side of life”.
Poland’s conservative leaders have made repeated bids to tighten rules around abortion and last year asked the constitutional court if aborting a foetus that was sick or disabled — which they call “eugenic” — breached constitutional principles, including the right to life and human dignity.
Mr Kaczyński has previously said that even pregnancies “when the child is condemned to death” should end in birth “so that the child can be christened, buried, and given a name”.
A majority of judges behind yesterday’s ruling were appointed in controversial circumstances by the ruling party, while the court’s leader is a close friend of Mr Kaczyński.
It was the first change to Poland’s abortion laws since 1993. Previous attempts in 2016 and 2018 failed and sparked mass protests.
Of just over 1,000 legal terminations in Poland each year, almost 98 per cent are conducted as a result of foetal defects. Women’s rights groups, however, estimate that up to 150,000 illegal abortions take place in Poland each year. Organisations have sprung up to help women travel to neighbouring countries with more lax termination laws.
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