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EU criticises Poland's abortion ban as it reminds member states to 'respect fundamental rights'

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The new law was ruled upon in October but came into effect earlier this year
The new law was ruled upon in October but came into effect earlier this year   -   Copyright  Czarek Sokolowski/AP
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An EU equality official has criticised the Polish government's decision to ban almost all circumstances of abortion - a decision that has also sparked the country's biggest protests in its post-communist era.

Helena Dalli, a Maltese politician serving as equality commissioner, reminded a European Parliament hearing on Wednesday that member states "must respect fundamental rights."

"As you are well aware, the EU has no competence on abortion rights within a member state and thus, abortion legislation is up to the member states concerned," Dalli said. "However, when making use of the competences, member states must respect fundamental rights which bind them by virtue of the constitutions and commitments under international law.

It is also worth noting that both the Council of Europe human rights commissioner, and a group of UN human rights special mechanisms, have expressed the opinion that this substantial restriction to legal access to abortion goes against Poland's international human rights obligations."

The Polish side, however, defended its decision, with representative Andrzej Marek Sados saying it was the "exclusive responsibility" of a state to regulate what constitutes a legal termination.

He said: "In the Polish legal system, courts and tribunals are an authority that is separate and independent from other authorities. Nonetheless, I would like to point out that in accordance with the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, health policy remains a competence of the member states.

"And it is also the exclusive responsibility of the member states to regulate the issue of the admissibility of the legal termination of pregnancy."

Czarek Sokolowski/AP
Marta Lempart is the leader of the Polish Women's StrikeCzarek Sokolowski/AP

The hearing on Wednesday was also attended by the European Parliament Committee for Women's Rights and Gender Equality, (FEMM), among other committees, and comes after Poland's landmark ruling last year.

In October, the Polish constitutional court found it illegal to abort foetuses that have congenital defects.

This officially took effect earlier this, making the majority of abortions in Poland illegal.

For instance, in 2019, around 98% of all legal abortions were performed on the grounds of foetal malformations.

A woman can now only seek a termination legally under Polish law if her life or health is at risk, or if her pregnancy is result of rape or incest.

'Bring the government to court'

Marta Lempart, a leader of the Polish Women's Strike and who is facing charges for her role in the recent protests, has urged the EU to act and to sanction the Polish government.

"Dear European politicians, I am not asking for your concern," she said. "I am not asking for declarations. I demand actions and that is my role and my right. I am a European citizen.

"Your duty, first, is to me. To fight for me, the European. To stand for my rights, me, the European. To put me first – me, the European. To act. To bring Polish government to court. To sanction them. To impose all the means that need political will, obviously still lacking. Still not enough. Still not brave enough.

"I know this is not diplomatic. I know this is not nice. I don't come nice, that's not my call. We, the people, are not nice. We are angry and scared and brave and strong.

"We, the people, urge you to fight for us, the European citizens, as freedom fighters in Poland, do every day, putting ourselves on the line for the core values that the European Union was built upon.

"The fight is on and out there."