Over the past month, hundreds of thousands of Poles have been marching all over the country and abroad in protest against the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling which imposed a virtually complete ban on abortion.
Demonstrators have disrupted the functioning of most major cities by blocking roads and bridges whilst vocalising a variety of anti-government slogans. Before the ruling, only three types of abortion were permitted in Poland – in case of foetal abnormalities, threat to a woman’s health, and if the baby was a result of incest or rape. In practice, 1074 out of 1100 abortions performed last year resulted from foetal abnormalities. However, upon the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling, this type of abortion has been held to be unconstitutional. Evidently, not only is this a battle for the health of Polish women, who now have to turn to alternative and potentially dangerous methods of abortion, but also for their dignity, freedom, and honour. Protesters are unequivocally demanding the liberalisation of laws on abortion.
However, the Soviet-like propaganda machine of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has been gradually inciting hatred towards the “leftist fascists” who are portrayed to be spreading “anarchy throughout the country”. Unfortunately, a majority of PiS voters draw their perspective on current affairs solely from one source, making them susceptible to manipulation. This is being done through the means of the Polish national television station, which is effectively run by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the deputy Prime Minister and leader of the party. In a speech the night before the ruling, he urged his followers to “defend Poland, defend patriotism” and “defend Polish churches”. Sadly, such is the current reality of Polish politics, which are largely guided by the whims of the Polish Catholic church. This is a direct result of the fact that the ruling party’s main electorate is comprised of conservative and highly religious individuals.
The issue of abortion is only one of a barrage of events disrupting the constitutional order in Poland. Over the last five years, the ruling party has effectively erased the independence of the judiciary by forcing judges of the Constitutional Tribunal to retire and replacing them with PiS puppets. As with the current situation, PiS’s actions concerning the Constitutional Tribunal also led to mass protests all over the country. In 2015, following the party’s victories in both the presidential and parliamentary elections, President Andrzej Duda signed an amendment to the Polish law allowing for the appointment of five new judges to the Constitutional Tribunal. Candidates had already been submitted by the previous government; however, they were rejected by President Duda because they had been chosen “in contravention to democratic principles”. The irony in this statement becomes quite evident upon analysis of the events that followed.
The new PiS-favouring judges were sworn into office in a closed ceremony held after midnight to avoid the “prying” eyes of the independent press. However, the following day, the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that three of the five nominations submitted by the previous government were entirely in line with the Polish constitution. Nevertheless, President Duda refused to swear these three judges into office. Sources in the presidential palace stated that this refusal was grounded on the contention that there would then be eighteen judges in the Constitutional Tribunal which would be unconstitutional in itself. Such impeccable reasoning is difficult to be argued with especially coming from a President who has always managed and continues to manage to exceed expectations, although unfortunately in the most negative of ways. In response to this, the president of the Constitutional Tribunal disallowed the newly appointed judges from participating in proceedings until the matter would be cleared up. Unfazed by this, PiS went on to change the law in such a way so as to effectively paralyse the decision-making ability of the Tribunal to solidify their grip over the judiciary.
What followed was the creation of the Committee for the Defence of Democracy, which instigated rallies all over the country with tens of thousands in attendance. However, as shown by recent events, to no avail. The European Commission branded the new laws as posing a threat to the rule of law and human rights of Polish citizens. Whilst, former president Lech Walesa implied that the situation might lead to a civil war. Seemingly, his words are gaining increasing gravitas as the constitutional crisis in Poland unravels. Unfortunately, with the tight grip that PiS has on Polish politics, the only thing left to do is to unite against the incumbent evil and fight in hope for a better tomorrow.
Image: by Andrea Andrea via Flickr