In October 2020, the Constitutional Tribunal of Poland passed a landmark decision banning eugenic abortion in the country. Now that statistics has been published for 2021, when the ruling entered into force, Polish daily Rzeczpospolita reported that only 107 abortions were performed in Poland–a country of more than 40 million people–in 2021, in contrast to 1,076 terminations in the previous year.
The Polish daily notes that of 107 abortions, 75 were performed because prenatal tests or other medical conditions indicated a high probability of severe and irreversible fetal impairment or an incurable and life-threatening disease. These terminations were probably performed before the new ruling came into effect. Another 32 cases are attributable to the pregnancy posing a risk to the mother’s health or life. While the law still allows abortion in case of rape, no abortions were performed for that reason in 2021.
Though media reports commonly attack Poland for introducing abortion restrictions with the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling in 2020, the truth is that the Central European country has had a strict abortion law for almost two decades–since 1993. The only difference is that the 2020 ruling banned abortion for eugenic reasons, i.e. for severe and irreversible disability or life-threatening incurable disease.
After 27 January 2021, when the ruling went into effect, abortion remained legal in two instances: when the mother’s life is in danger and in case the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.
In a statement to The Pillar, Urszula Dudziak, an associate professor in the Department of Family Sciences at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, said that the figures published by Rzeczpospolita are most likely true and noted that in a study she conducted in the 1980s among women having abortions in Lublin, the vast majority (99.3%) of terminations were performed for social reasons and less than 1% for medical and legal reasons.
She also highlighted a very important point: each change in abortion legislation led to a positive change in people’s attitudes towards a stance that is more protective of the life of unborn children. For instance, once the permission to kill a child in the womb for social reasons was eliminated (with the law from 1993), the number of young people who were against abortion increased from 35% to 54%.
Thus, the 2020 ruling banning eugenic abortion has the potential to “sensitize society to the truth that illness does not nullify the fact of humanity.”
“It is an educational factor, making it possible to save the lives of children, for example, with Down syndrome, who, even if they do not score high on a test measuring IQ, can teach many adults how to show warmth, cordiality, and kindness to another human being,” she said to The Pillar.