Chief justice Julia Przylebska said in a ruling that existing legislation which allows for the abortion of malformed foetuses was "incompatible" with the constitution.
Poland's Constitutional Court has struck down a provision of the Catholic country's abortion law, allowing the already strict legislation to be further tightened and drawing swift outcry from rights groups.
Chief justice Julia Przylebska said in a ruling that existing legislation that allows for the abortion of malformed foetuses was "incompatible" with the constitution.
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 Nazi Germans 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.
Since 1993, Poland has only allowed abortions if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, if it poses a threat to the mother's life or if the foetus is deformed.
Now the court ruling could pave the way for lawmakers from the governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party to approve draft legislation that would ban pregnancy terminations in the case of foetuses with congenital birth defects.
Many Polish women bridled when PiS backed the bill originating as a popular petition earlier this year, prompting conservative lawmakers to refer the matter to the constitutional court.
The tribunal, whose main role is to ensure that any law complies with the constitution, underwent government reforms in 2016 that led critics to contend it is stacked with PiS allies.
The verdict drew immediate condemnation from the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic.
Removing the basis for almost all legal abortions in #Poland amounts to a ban & violates #HumanRights. Today’s ruling of the Constitutional Court means underground/abroad abortions for those who can afford & even greater ordeal for all others. A sad day for #WomensRights.— Commissioner for Human Rights (@CommissionerHR) October 22, 2020
Former liberal Polish premier and PiS critic Donald Tusk called the timing of the abortion issue "political wickedness."
"Throwing the topic of abortion and a ruling by a pseudo-court into the middle of a raging pandemic is more than cynical," the head of the European People's Party tweeted.
The head of the Civic Coalition, Borys Budka, said on Twitter that the government used a “false" court of its own appointees to do something “simply inhuman."
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic deplored the decision.
“Removing the basis for almost all legal abortions in #Poland amounts to a ban & violates #HumanRights,” she tweeted. “Today’s ruling of the Constitutional Court means underground/abroad abortions for those who can afford & even greater ordeal for all others. A sad day for #WomensRights.”
PiS-allied President Andrzej Duda has said that if approved by the parliament, he would sign the draft legislation into law.
The country of 38 million people sees fewer than 2,000 legal abortions a year, but women's groups estimate that up to 200,000 procedures are performed illegally or abroad.
An attempt by the PiS government to tighten the abortion law in 2016 was scrapped following nationwide protests by tens of thousands of women dressed in black.