Society of Bioethics and Medicine
The Church, the State, and the Right to Choose
By - Elizabeth Badalov, Edited By - Deepshikha Kewlani
In the 21st century, we have become used to the notion of secularization. It is evident that for modern science and medicine to have the impact that it does, we must diminish the impact of faith. We have come to recognize the separation between science and religion and even more so between the Church and the State. This is one of the reasons why Poland’s recent decision to effectively ban abortions is so jarring.
Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal has officially ruled that the termination of a pregnancy in the case of a fetal defect is unconstitutional. The abortion laws in Poland were already among the strictest in all of Europe, but these new rulings, which are final and binding, will only allow terminations in the event of rape, incest, or if the pregnancy endangers the mother’s health (Easton, 2020). It is estimated that 1,000 legal abortions had taken place in Poland in 2019, where 98% took place on the ground of fetal disability (Easton, 2020).
The lawmakers of Poland have not banned abortion—they have banned safe abortion. Women’s rights groups have suggested that between 80,000 to 120,000 women go abroad for abortions every year. This new ruling will only heighten the risks that they face in doing so.
What is perhaps most concerning is the fact that the majority of the Polish population has clearly expressed an objection to more restrictive abortion throughout the last few years (Easton, 2020). Poland is one of Europe’s most strictly Catholic countries, but the views of most civilians do not align with this new legislation. Instead, pressure for the new ruling has come from the church. Bishops and lay Catholic groups have been trying to influence the governing Law and Justice party to impose tighter laws, but have continually been met with opposition, “both in parliament and on the streets” (Easton, 2020). 100,000 people openly protested the attempts to change abortion laws back in 2016, and yet the issue continues to be pressed.
Human rights activists have called the new rulings inhuman, despicable, and unjustified (Easton, 2020). The rulings were not founded on public request, or any scientific basis—they are merely the result of privatized religious groups’ interference in government. In 2019, a group of people from the governing party and the far-right members of Parliament had requested that the court decide once again on the legality of abortion. It happened to be that the majority of the court’s judges had been nominated by the traditionally Catholic Law and Justice party (Easton, 2020). These proceedings are in line with repeated attacks on women’s rights, reflecting policy changes that continue to undermine “the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law in Poland” (Easton, 2020).
This recent legislation has certainly undermined the majority rule and the public opinion of Polish civilians, and undoubtedly and unnecessarily put them at risk. It seems we are moving backward by once more blurring the lines between political policy and religious belief. Religious influence in government can thus have detrimental effects on the well-being of a nation. In the midst of a pandemic, when population health is already at its most vulnerable, this is a serious blow and should be a call to action for international human rights groups, as it may not be long before other nations start to follow suit.
Easton, A. (2020, October 23). Poland abortion: Top court bans almost all terminations. BBC News; Europe.