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New Abortion Laws in Poland

  • 26 Oct 2020
  • 6 min read

Why in News

Recently, women in Poland have been protesting a court ruling that drastically restricts their right to access safe and legal abortions.

Key Points

  • Poland’s Abortion Laws:
    • The existing 1993 abortion law permits the termination of pregnancy on the grounds of foetal defects.
    • These are already considered some of the strictest laws in Europe and after the enactment of the court’s decision, abortions will only be permitted in cases of rape, incest, or if there is a threat to the mother’s life.
  • Background:
    • Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled that an existing law was unconstitutional because the Polish constitution assures a right to life and the abortion based on a foetal malfunction was a directly forbidden form of discrimination.
    • Tribunal held that permitting abortions in the case of foetal deformities legalised “eugenic practices with regard to an unborn child, thus denying it the respect and protection of human dignity.”
      • Eugenics is the practice or advocacy of improving the human species by selectively mating people with specific desirable hereditary traits.
      • It aims to reduce human suffering by “breeding out” disease, disabilities and so-called undesirable characteristics from the human population.
  • Similar Instances:
    • Earlier in 2016 too, thousands of women went on strike in protest against a draft law for a complete ban on abortions.
    • The draft law was proposed by an anti-abortion citizens’ group and was initially supported by the Catholic Church. It suggested stringent punishments like jail upto 5 years for the women and also the doctors performing the abortion.
    • However, the Church later backed out when bishops said they could not support the proposal to jail women who underwent an abortion.
  • Implications of the Latest Ruling:
    • Fewer than 2,000 legal abortions are carried out in Poland each year, a majority of which are due to foetal defects. So the ruling essentially translates to a near complete ban on abortions in the country.
      • Abortions in cases of rape, incest or where there is a threat to the mother’s life account for merely 2% of all legal terminations.
    • An estimated 80,000 to 1,20,000 Polish women either go abroad or seek illegal abortions every year due to the country’s strict laws or the stigma assocoated with it.
      • It is feared that the number could surge even further if terminations due to malformed foetuses are outlawed.
  • Global Reactions:
    • Regional and global organisations like the Council of Europe, Amnesty International, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Human Rights Watch criticised the ruling.


  • It is defined as the termination of pregnancy by various methods, including medical surgery before the fetus is able to sustain independent life.

Abortion Laws in India

  • Abortions in India are regulated by the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971.
  • Under the law (section 3 of the MTP Act 1971), the doctor can perform an abortion in the following conditions:
    • If the pregnancy would be harmful to the life of the patient or affects her physical or mental health. The doctor will need to consider the circumstances of the patient to figure out if the pregnancy will harm her mental health, on a case to case basis.
    • If there is a good chance that the child would suffer from physical or mental abnormalities which would leave him or her seriously handicapped.
    • If pregnancy occurred as a result of a failure of contraception (only applicable to married women).
    • If pregnancy is a result of sexual assault or rape.
  • Termination of Pregnancy:
    • If the pregnancy has not exceeded 12 weeks, only one doctor is needed to sign-off.
    • If the pregnancy has exceeded 12 weeks and is below 24 weeks, two doctors are needed.
    • The gestation period does not matter if a doctor feels that an immediate abortion must be conducted to save the life of the patient.
    • The doctor who determines if it is necessary to perform an abortion and performs it needs to be a ‘registered medical practitioner’ under the law.
  • In January 2020, the Union Cabinet approved amendments to the MTP Act, allowing women to seek abortions as part of the reproductive right and gender justice.
  • The amendment raised the upper limit of MTP from 20 weeks to 24 weeks for women including rape survivors, victims of incest, differently-abled women and minors.

Source: IE

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