Coronavirus in Europe: Polish MPs set to debate abortion ban while lockdown prevents protest

Women protest a tightening of abortion laws in Warsaw in 2017.
Women protest a tightening of abortion laws in Warsaw in 2017. Copyright Czarek Sokolowski/AP Photos
Copyright Czarek Sokolowski/AP Photos
By Chris Harris
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Mass protests helped stop a near-total abortion ban in 2016. This time, amid the coronavirus lockdown, that option is not available.


Poland’s coronavirus lockdown is being used in a “cynical” and “cowardly” manner to push through a ban on abortion, campaigners claim.

MPs are set to consider a bill this week that pro-choice groups say would effectively ban abortions.

They are angry about it being considered during COVID-19 confinement when mass street protests are prohibited.

A similar bid to ban abortion in 2016 was defeated in parliament after tens of thousands of women demonstrated in the streets.

“We believe strongly it’s not a coincidence that they are taking [the bill] during coronavirus lockdown when freedom of movement and assembly have been removed,” Irene Donadio, from the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network, told Euronews.

“I think [the timing] is extremely cynical and cowardly,” she added. “It’s not a normal democratic process and there’s not been much media scrutiny because of coronavirus.”

Poland already has one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws and in theory only allows terminations in cases of rape, incest or when the health of the baby or mother is compromised.

Donadio says 97 per cent of abortions in Poland are in cases where the foetus is malformed and the new law, if passed, would outlaw this.

Poland’s president Andrzej Duda, from PiS, in a recent interview for Catholic weekly Niedziela said killing children with disabilities is murder.

Duda has been in office since 2015 and experts say bringing the abortion legislation before MPs now was “opportunisitic” and part of moves to keep his core supporters happy ahead of presidential elections that are controversially set to go ahead on 10 May.

“PiS is determined to hold as it has been planned on 10 May although the number of [COVID-19] infections and deaths is still on the rise and there is no campaign,” Piotr Buras, who heads up the European Council on Foreign Relations’ office in Warsaw, told Euronews.

“PiS wants to seize the opportunity and ensure the victory of the popular President Duda before it is too late.

“If the election is postponed, let's say until the autumn, his chance will be slimmer as the population will have, by then, been hit by the economic crisis and much more critical about the government (and Duda) than today.

“This is deeply immoral and undemocratic.”

But Buras added bringing the abortion bill before MPs this week was not cynical - parliamentary regulations meant the government had six months to present the legislation and that this term expires on 12 May.

“Yes, to my understanding they could have done it earlier,” he added. “But for some reason they did not - now they do not have a choice.

“But the truth is that the coronavirus emergency offers an unique opportunity for the supporters of this bill to get it passed.

“The attention of the people is elsewhere and mass manifestations, which killed this idea for some time in 2016, are not likely to take place, they are even forbidden by law.”


Nevertheless, Marta Lempart, who led demonstrations against an abortion ban in 2016, told Euronews protests planning.

She said there were car, bike and supermarket protests planned - all the while adhering to social distancing rules.

Euronews asked the Polish government to comment but they had not replied at the time of publication.

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