Poland instituted a new, near-total ban on abortion at midnight Wednesday, sparking protests in the streets of the overwhelmingly Catholic country. The ban prohibits abortion in instances of fetal abnormalities, such that abortion in Poland is now restricted solely to cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger. The heightened restrictions were handed down in October by the country’s Constitutional Tribunal, which ruled unconstitutional a 1993 law that allowed abortion in instances of severe and irreversible fetal abnormalities. The ruling had not yet been implemented after mass demonstrations erupted. The far-right government, however, suddenly announced the ban would be entered into the government register Wednesday.
The new ban on abortion in instances of fetal abnormalities functionally eliminates access to abortion services in the European country because, as the New York Times notes, 1,074 of the 1,100 abortions performed in Poland last year were because of fetal abnormalities. After the October ruling, “more than 400,000 people protested in hundreds of towns and cities across the country as part of a ‘women’s strike,’” the Guardian reports. “Theoretically, the rulings of the court should come into effect immediately, but there have been a number of cases where there have been long delays for apparently political reasons, and there was a sense that the government had been alarmed by the size of the protests and wanted to back away from the ruling.”
The ban sparked criticism from European leaders and is yet another indication of Poland’s worrisome rightward swing under the ruling Law and Justice Party. “Abortion has emerged as one of the most divisive issues since [the Law and Justice Party] took power in 2015, promising poorer, older and less-educated Poles a return to a traditional society mixed with generous welfare policies,” CNN notes.
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