Poland Reduces Legal Abortions by 90% After Court Eliminates Exception for Fetal Defects

The court ruling left in place exceptions in cases of rape and incest and when the life and health of the mother are at risk.

Pro-life campaign billboard in Warsaw portraying an 11-week unborn baby.
Pro-life campaign billboard in Warsaw portraying an 11-week unborn baby. (photo: Anna Gawlik / Shutterstock)

The number of legal abortions taking place in Poland decreased by 90% in 2021, following a court ruling that banned abortion in the case of a fetal medical diagnosis such as Down syndrome.

According to a report by the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita, data from the Ministry of Health shows that the number of legal abortions in the country decreased from 1,076 in 2020 to 107 in 2021 following changes to the country’s abortion law.

On Oct. 22, 2020, the Constitutional Court ruled the law’s exception for fetal defects violated the constitutionally protected right to life. The exception had permitted physicians to recommend and perform abortions in cases with a “high probability of severe and irreversible impairment of the fetus or an incurable disease threatening its life.”  

The court ruling left in place exceptions in cases of rape and incest and when the life and health of the mother are at risk.

If it had not been for the change in the law about 1,000 children would have lost their lives in their mothers' wombs in Poland, mainly due to suspected Down syndrome, said lawyer and psychologist Magdalena Korzekwa-Kaliszuk, head of the pro-life Proelio Group Foundation.

“This means that the law is working and has allowed specific people to be saved,” she said.

While legal abortions have been dramatically reduced in Poland, it is not clear how many illegal abortions are taking place in Poland. Abortion advocates estimate the number is in the thousands but that claim cannot be independently verified.

Krystyna Kacpura of the pro-abortion Federation for Women and Family Planning told the website Notes from Poland that women seeking abortions resort to purchasing abortion pills online. Under Polish law, women who have an abortion are not subject to criminal penalties, but those who assist them in terminating pregnancies can be prosecuted.

Even if illegal abortions continue to take place, Poland’s new restriction on legal abortion will save lives, said Korzekwa-Kaliszuk, the head of the Proelio Group Foundation. 

"A good law has a positive impact on people's attitudes. On the one hand, it reinforces the conviction that the right to life should not depend on the diagnosis of a medical condition,” she said.

“On the other hand, not being able to kill a child on eugenic grounds means that doctors will no longer have a basis for proposing or even pressuring parents to have an abortion,” said Korzekwa-Kaliszuk.

With the fall of Communism, legislation protecting the right to life for the unborn was passed in Poland in 1990. Poland’s Parliament created a large loophole in the law in 1996 with a law allowing abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy in cases of personal or financial difficulties.

From the Vatican, Pope John Paul II condemned the move, saying “A nation that kills its own children is a nation without hope.” The court struck that exception down in 1997.

In 2021, the European Parliament condemned Poland's new law, calling it a “de facto ban on abortion.”

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