"If things continue on this path, Poland will be unrecognisable, compared with other EU countries," writes Caroline Hickson, regional director at the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network.
We are witnessing the degradation of the rule of law, democracy and common sense in Poland by ultra-conservative and authoritarian actors only concerned with keeping their grip on power.
But at what cost? The cost of the lives and safety of women, minorities, LGBTI people or those that just don’t accept the far-right agenda being forced upon their country.
Take, for example, the new legislative package of COVID-19 measures that don’t protect Polish citizens at all. It is nothing but a Trojan horse, hiding the real intent of its authors to further roll back the freedom of Polish citizens. Women in Poland have been served a new blow, endangering their reproductive safety even more.
Already in May, the Polish parliament proposed to remove the legal obligation for medical facilities to refer patients to another facility if they refuse to provide abortion care based on personal beliefs, with potentially dramatic consequences for women, who may be unable to access care.
And this week, women are targeted in the new criminal code that dismantles support systems for those who want to access abortion care (and this in a country in which access to contraception and emergency contraception is very difficult). Through a cunning change in the law, now judges are pressured into giving harsh prison sentences to people who support women with abortion care unless within the narrowest of limits allowed by Poland’s extremely restrictive law.
The court system – including the Constitutional Court - is already filled with judges that share the ruling party’s agenda, but now even the more progressive ones will be bound by this cruel abortion law.
The repercussions go far beyond just tying the hands of judges. Doctors who provide care and solidarity groups that help women across borders to access safe abortion have been taken to court and harassed in the past few years. Now the sentence can be much harsher.
Apart from forcing women to go through a pregnancy against their will, the Polish Government also dismisses frameworks that would protect them against violence, like the Istanbul Convention. The European Union signed the Convention in June 2017 and is actively promoting ratification among its member states.
The political discourse in Poland runs counter to EU values of protection of women and the most vulnerable. Instead, coercive actors twist the story to serve their own goals related to power and control.
The picture being painted is grim. Women’s safety, protection and freedom are at stake as their support systems are taken apart though relentless attacks. Women will be completely abandoned by the State with no safety net, alone and unable to ask for help. Because who is left to help? Biased judges or those who are gagged by the law, doctors fearful of prosecution, silenced journalists and teachers, persecuted human rights defenders?
The war on women is not the only worrying point. Changes in this so-called package of measures against COVID-19 also include penalties for offending the president, petty thefts and involuntary medical mistakes.
This suite of new strikes against the rule of law complement previous efforts to completely ban abortion care, hatred campaigns against the LGBTI+ community and dismissing the EU consensus on gender equality and the protection of minorities from discrimination.
If things continue on this path, Poland will be unrecognisable, compared with other EU countries.
- Caroline Hickson is regional director at the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network
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