Poland’s Top Court Rules That a Law Allowing Abortion Due to Congenital Defects is Unconstitutional

Police guard Poland's constitutional court as pro-choice and anti-abortion activists protest, in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. Poland’s top court has ruled that a law allowing abortion of fetuses with congenital defects is unconstitutional. The decision by the country’s Constitutional Court effectively bans terminating pregnancies in cases where birth defects are found and will further limit access to abortions in Poland. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Police guard Poland’s constitutional court as pro-choice and anti-abortion activists protest, in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. Poland’s top court has ruled that a law allowing abortion of fetuses with congenital defects is unconstitutional. The decision by the country’s Constitutional Court effectively bans terminating pregnancies in cases where birth defects are found and will further limit access to abortions in Poland. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s top court ruled Thursday that a law allowing abortion of fetuses with congenital defects is unconstitutional, shutting a major loophole in the predominantly Catholic country’s abortion laws that are among the strictest in Europe.

Two judges in the 13-member Constitutional Court did not back the majority ruling. Activists deplored the decision, and the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner wrote on Twitter that it was a “sad day for women’s rights.”

Hours later, hundreds of mostly young protesters defied a pandemic-related ban on gatherings and staged a protest before the court with signs saying “You Have Blood on Your Gowns” and “Shame.”

Pro-choice activists from “Women Strike” attend a protest in front of Poland’s constitutional court, in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. Poland’s top court has ruled that a law allowing abortion of fetuses with congenital defects is unconstitutional. The decision by the country’s Constitutional Court effectively bans terminating pregnancies in cases where birth defects are found and will further limit access to abortions in Poland. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Pro-choice activists from “Women Strike” attend a protest in front of Poland’s constitutional court, in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. Poland’s top court has ruled that a law allowing abortion of fetuses with congenital defects is unconstitutional. The decision by the country’s Constitutional Court effectively bans terminating pregnancies in cases where birth defects are found and will further limit access to abortions in Poland. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

The demonstrators then walked to the offices of the main ruling conservative party, Law and Justice, and to the house of the party leader and deputy prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is the driving force behind the government’s policies. Police cordoned the house off from the noisy protesters who were calling for the government to step down. Officers briefly tussled with some people, took their banners and sprayed pepper gas to disperse the crowd.

The ruling party will soon propose new legislation to better support women and their children that will be born as a result of the court’s ruling, the party’s spokeswoman said.

The court’s decision came in response to a motion from right-wing lawmakers who argued that terminating a pregnancy due to fetal defects — the most common reason cited for legal abortions in Poland — violates a constitutional provision that calls for protecting the life of every individual.

The court argued that terminating pregnancy due to defects of the fetus amounted to eugenics — a 19th century notion of genetic selection that was later applied by the Nazis in their pseudo-scientific experiments.

It agreed with the plaintiffs that it was a form of banned discrimination when the decision about an unborn child’s life was conditioned on its health.

The challenged law was introduced by Poland’s young post-communist democracy in 1993 as a hard-won compromise between the influential Catholic Church and the state authorities. It allows abortions when a pregnancy endangers a woman’s health or life, or results from rape or other illegal act, and also in case of congenital defects. Only the last provision was challenged.

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Source: Church Leaders