Poland’s highest court considered the following question, brought by 119 deputies from three parliamentary groups: should be abortion permitted under the Constitution when there is a “high probability of serious and irreversible disability of the foetus or an incurable life-threatening illness?“
The Court declared that eugenic abortion is against the dignity and respect for human life that is guaranteed by the Polish Constitution.
“The mere fact of a disability or incurable illness of the child in the prenatal phase, linked to considerations of a eugenic nature and to considerations relating to the possible discomfort of the sick child’s life, cannot alone decide on the admissibility of the termination of pregnancy”, held the Constitutional Court of Poland.
Only two of the 13 Constitutional judges that took part in the hearing expressed a diverging opinion.
Under a law going back to 1993 abortion in Poland was permitted on three grounds: threat to the life or physical health of the mother, if the pregnancy is the result of a prohibited act such as rape or incest (up to 12 weeks), and when the foetus has an irreversible disability or incurable life-threatening illness.
Of the total of 1,110 abortions carried out in Poland last year, 1,074 were eugenic abortions on disabled foetuses. Thirty five percent of the those abortions involved children with Down Syndrome.
In countries like the UK and Denmark, the vast majority of unborn babies found to have conditions like Down Syndrome are aborted.
The decision of the Court has been welcomed by pro-life organisations in Poland and worldwide but, as expected, it has been heavily criticised by pro-choice activists.
Now the Polish Parliament is expected to approve a Citizens’ Bill, supported by 830,000 signatures, that was stalled while waiting for the Constitutional Court’s judgement. The Bill would remove from the 1993 act the clause that permits abortion in case of disability or incurable illness.
Alternatively, they could amend the Constitution and allow for eugenic abortions but there is no support for such a move in the parliament and in the country.
Lacking a political majority, the pro-choice side could only rely on street demonstrations and intimidation.
The protest following the ruling has become violent at times. A number of Catholic churches have been attacked by mobs and desecrated. Other churches had to be protected by a cordon of faithful and by the police. On Sunday, Masses were been interrupted by aggressive protesters in some Polish cities.
Ironically and tragically, even the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights deplored the Court’s decision.
“Throwing in the topic of abortion and holding a pseudo-tribunal on it in the middle of a raging pandemic is more than cynicism. This is political villainy,” said former Polish PM and President of the European Parliament, Donald Tusk.
But making disability a ground for abortion goes against any reasonable understanding of human rights.
The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities stated in 2018 that, “Laws that explicitly allow abortion on the grounds of disability violate the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”
The Constitutional Court has to be lauded because, in spite of foreign pressure and interference, Poland is now for the international community an example of defence of the disabled.