WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s top human rights official on Thursday denounced a top court ruling that amounts to a near total ban on abortion, saying it imposes a severe limitation of women’s rights and “condemns them to torture.”
The constitutional court on Wednesday issued a justification of a controversial October ruling that bans abortions in cases of fetuses with congenital defects, even when they are so severe that there is no chance of survival upon birth.
That October ruling sparked weeks of mass protests, but until now it had not taken legal effect — though women’s reproductive rights activists said hospitals were already cancelling procedures, fearing recriminations from the authorities.
After the court published its explanation Wednesday, Poland’s right-wing nationalist government published it in a government journal. Those formal steps mean a near total ban on abortion has now taken legal effect.
Only crimes like rape and incest remain as reasons for legal abortions.
Large protests erupted Wednesday evening across this central European nation, traditionally a bastion of Roman Catholicism but one undergoing rapid secularization among young urban Poles.
“The justification of the judgment of the constitutional Tribunal is a growing drama for women,” Adam Bodnar, the human rights commissioner, or ombudsman, said Thursday.
“The state wants to further limit their rights, risk their lives, and condemn them to torture,” added Bodnar, who is independent from the government. “This offensive is opposed by civil society.”
Amnesty International called it “a terrible day for women and girls in Poland” and said bans never prevent abortions.
“Instead, they serve only to damage women’s health by pushing abortions underground or forcing women to travel to foreign countries to access abortion care they need and to which they have a right,” said Amnesty senior research adviser Esther Major.
Poland’s conservative ruling party, Law and Justice, has long sought to further restrict abortion rights. Past attempts by parliament to do so triggered mass street protests, pressure that led lawmakers to shelve those plans.
The constitutional court is made up mostly of Law and Justice appointees who ruled on a motion brought by lawmakers from the party.
The Associated Press