Poland’s near-ban on abortion condemns women to torture, top human rights official says

People protest new antiabortion laws near Poland's ruling party headquarters in Warsaw.
People protest Wednesday against Poland’s new antiabortion laws near the country’s ruling Law and Justice party headquarters in Warsaw.
(Czarek Sokolowski / Associated Press)
Share via

Poland’s top human rights official Thursday denounced a top court ruling that amounts to a near-total ban on abortion, saying it imposes a severe limitation on women’s rights and “condemns them to torture.”

The ruling by the constitutional court sparked large protests Wednesday evening across Poland, traditionally a bastion of Roman Catholicism but one undergoing rapid secularization among young urban residents. Further protests were anticipated Thursday.

The constitutional court Wednesday issued a justification of a controversial October ruling that bans abortions in cases of fetuses with congenital defects, even when the defects are so severe that there is no chance of survival upon birth. Only pregnancy through crimes such as rape and incest remain as reasons for legal abortions.


The October ruling sparked weeks of mass protests, but until now it had not taken legal effect — although women’s reproductive-rights activists said hospitals were already canceling procedures, fearing reprisals from the authorities.

After the court issued its explanation Wednesday, Poland’s right-wing nationalist government published it in a government journal. Those formal steps mean a near-total ban on abortion has now taken legal effect.

“The justification of the judgment of the Constitutional Tribunal is a growing drama for women,” Adam Bodnar, Poland’s human rights commissioner, or ombudsman, said Thursday.

People across Poland are vowing to stay off their jobs as part of a nationwide strike called to protest a court ruling on abortion.

Oct. 28, 2020

“The state wants to further limit their rights, risk their lives and condemn them to torture,” added Bodnar, who is independent from the government. “This offensive is opposed by civil society.”

Amnesty International called it “a terrible day for women and girls in Poland” and said bans never prevent abortions.

“Instead, they serve only to damage women’s health by pushing abortions underground or forcing women to travel to foreign countries to access abortion care they need and to which they have a right,” said Amnesty senior research advisor Esther Major.


Poland’s conservative ruling party, Law and Justice, has long sought to further restrict abortion rights. Past attempts to do so legislatively triggered mass street protests, which led lawmakers to shelve those plans.

The constitutional court is made up mostly of Law and Justice appointees who ruled on a motion brought by lawmakers from the party.