The aim of this report is to draw attention to the failure in implementation and fictional character of the law remaining in force for over two decades. The law which contradicts the secular nature of a democratic state.
Twenty years is enough to provide an overview of social, legal and health impact of the Act. We will try to answer the question whether the basic objective of the regulation, that is the reduction in the number of abortions and the increase in the number of births has been met. Our brief initial reply would be no! As regards demography, statistics say it all. Poland has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe whereas France – where abortion is legal, available and subsidized by the state – birth rate is one of the highest in Europe. Data concerning the number of abortion procedures, for example
the 201311 CBOS (Centre for Public Opinion Research) study, shows that ca. five million (no less than a quarter and not more than one-third of adult Polish women) have had at least one abortion. In comparison, in 2011 there were only 669 legal terminations according to the government report from the implementation of the Act.
It means that the underground market of abortion services is thriving. It is enough to read an ad section in a daily newspaper to find the necessary contacts. Also, so-called abortion tourism is on the rise. The demand has gone up so much that many clinics in the Netherlands, Germany and Slovakia launched Polish hotlines and websites.
We’re wondering – is this what the legislators had in mind? Annual government reports say nothing about the effects of the law. Neither do they make any references to illegal abortions. Despite that politicians claim that the Act has been functioning and the low number of legal procedures seems to be the proof of that. And this is the only thing that matters for them. Those in power do not show the slightest interest in the health and lives of Polish women. Has the Polish state ever done anything to reduce the number of illegal abortions which are by definition dangerous for women’s health and lives? For supporters of the present legislation the only thing that matters is that women give birth. That is all. Unwanted children, lost health and lives are not their concern. Once a woman gives birth, nobody cares about her – social policies and support for mothers of young children are at a pathetic level in Poland.
Anti-choice organizations are also not very keen to provide support. Their main activities are focused on forcing women to deliver babies and not on helping the mothers “Polish Women’s Abortion Experiences” (CBOS 2013) of sick children. Women are not regarded as individuals and their right to decide about themselves and their reproductive life is taken for granted.
If our decision-makers claim that it is impossible to prevent and reduce the rates of illegal abortions, they should at least pay closer attention to whether their laws are respected. Currently the law is a farce. Citizens do not respect it and the state does not make sure it is respected. These basic factors ought to have convinced the lawmakers to liberalize the current Act.
In the following chapters we will discuss the actual implementation of the law as regards legal abortion, access to modern contraception and sexuality education. It will be proven that the Act has not been properly implemented in any of these spheres. There is no sexuality education, no universal access to contraception and pharmacists have been demanding the right to refuse selling family planning products on the grounds of conscience. Fortunately, this absurd idea never came into force.
The fight to regain women’s basic right to make free decisions about their bodies has been going on for more than two decades and the end is nowhere near. Even the current provisions need to be defended in the face of attempts to further restrict abortion access (recent ideas of the Criminal Law Codification Committee, bills in the parliament and suggestions of government agendas). This issue will be discussed later in the report. It needs to be stressed that the proposals of the Criminal Law Codification Committee went back way beyond the current provisions. This caused outrage among women’s rights defenders and in the media. International organizations took note of the situation of Polish women and made numerous appeals to the Polish government to change the restrictive law which violates women’s basic rights.