Last week, Poland took a step forward in defense of human life. The country’s constitutional court had ruled on October 22 that abortion in the case of fetal abnormalities is unconstitutional, and last Wednesday, this verdict went into effect when the court's reasoning was published in Poland's Journal of Laws.
The ruling makes eugenic abortions illegal, including abortions of unborn children with Down syndrome and of unborn children with fatal fetal abnormalities or terminal illnesses. Many Poles are against abortion in the case of Down syndrome: According to one survey, 46 percent are against it, compared with 38 percent who are not. More controversial is the ruling's criminalization of abortion in the case of fatal fetal abnormalities. Poland’s Parliament is already set to vote on a legislative initiative from President Andrzej Duda that would make it legal to have an abortion when there is “a high probability that the child will be stillborn or have an incurable disease or defect that will lead to the death of the child inevitably and directly.” Even the constitutional court’s newly-published rationale for the ruling indicates that lethal fetal abnormalities could impact the mental health of women, implying that the government could create exceptions to the ruling for such cases.
Since 1989, Poland has been in a constant state of culture war, and one of the major conflicts is abortion. Under communism, a laissez-faire legal approach to abortion dominated, but after 1989 Catholics and pro-lifers campaigned to ban it. In 1993, a compromise law was introduced. This law made abortion legal in three situations: when there are fetal abnormalities, when the pregnancy jeopardizes the mother’s life or health, and when pregnancy results from an illicit act like rape or incest. This law has prevailed in Poland until now—with the exception of 1996, when the post-communist government legalized abortion on demand (a group of conservative senators petitioned the constitutional court to study the new legislation; it declared the law unconstitutional).