It has been a rough week for reproductive freedom around the globe. In the United States (US), the right-wing Supreme Court majority indicated during, that it intends to significantly curb abortion rights in the US. Similarly, but gaining far less attention, the Polish government – carried by the belief that the near-total abortion ban announced last year wasn’t devastating enough – just announced plans for a national register of pregnancies to report miscarriages.
The central register would force doctors to report all pregnancies and miscarriages to the government, possibly causing legal consequences for pregnant people who have self-administered abortions. After first refusing access to abortions, these new measures now further criminalise people exercising their human right to reproductive freedom.
This represents only the latest crushing restriction on women’s right to choose, the archconservative PiS-party has imposed in the last couple of years. The catholic country long had a very strict abortion law, but the measures introduced by the PiS-government made legal abortions in Poland virtually impossible.
These draconian policies have forced more and more Poles to obtain dangerous “back-alley abortions” or to cross the border to access abortions, a huge financial burden that many women cannot afford.
While the measures have been met with loud and inspiring resistance in the streets of Poland, the reaction from leaders in the EU and neighbouring states has largely been silence. The European Parliament and some national politicians denounced the developments, but no action was taken.
Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union proudly pronounces the protection of human rights and equality of women and men as founding principles of the Union. Reproductive rights, including the right to a safe and legal abortion, are such human rights. They enable women to retain full autonomy over their body and a free choice over their life paths. By guaranteeing these rights for all women and pregnant persons, our societies show that we recognise their full dignity and humanity.
Yet again, similar to the ongoing failure to stand up for LGBTQ-rights in Poland and Hungary, the EU failed to live up to these values.
The EU and the individual Member States have the political capital to pressurise Poland to restore these rights for all people. Further, legal pathways, including supporting applicants ahead of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to force a change of policy, remain open.
If the EU’s values are to be more than a dress-up for Sunday speeches, the EU should draw a hard line on this issue.
It is time that Europe’s women and (especially) men stand in solidarity with all Polish people whose reproductive rights are withheld and put more pressure on our European leaders to finally act. The people of Poland cannot wait.