Warsaw, Poland – In a report published on Friday by Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe warned Poland against further restrictions on women’s rights that could result in a de-facto ban on abortion in the country.
The report comes as a conclusion of a visit to Poland of Dunja Mijatović in March to investigate the state of Poland’s judicial system, women’s rights and gender equality.
Council of Europe urges for “effective access” to abortion for Polish women
Although Poland has vowed not to bring any changes to the country’s abortion laws for the time being, the government’s repeated attempts to tighten the regulations, already among the strictest in Europe, faced an unprecedented backlash and prompted mass protests in 2016 and last year.
Pointing to the “very real and grave risk to women’s life and health” delay in access to abortion can create, the report urges the government to ensure that women have “effective access” to abortion, and claims that rulings of the European Court of Human Rights regarding access to legal abortion have remained “unimplemented” by Polish authorities.
“Noting the shifting public attitudes to the question of abortion, the Commissioner invites the Polish authorities to consider making abortion legal on a woman’s request in early pregnancy, and thereafter throughout pregnancy to protect women’s health and lives and ensure freedom from ill-treatment”, the report reads.
Council of Europe criticizes Poland’s judicial reform
In the report, the Human Rights Commissioner also bashed the Polish government over its judicial reform, which “fundamentally affected” all parts of the justice system. The report will give more ammunition to critics, claiming Poland’s judicial reform is an attempt to politicize the courts and put it under its control.
The PiS-led government argues that the reforms, at the heart of the clash with the EU, were necessary to modernize the courts and rid them of remnants of communism. In a 41-page reply to the Council of Europe report, the Polish government denied the criticism and said that its judicial system “does not infringe on any standards of European law”.
This report comes a few days after the European Court of Justice, the EU’s top court, issued a landmark ruling saying Poland violated EU law by forcing judges into early retirement – one of the most controversial aspects of the reform on which Warsaw eventually backtracked.
Council of Europe faces legitimacy crisis
The Council of Europe is a pan-European organization of 47 member states, which isn’t linked to the EU. Founded in 1949 and based in Strasbourg, France, its goal is to promote the rule of law, human rights and democratic principles in Europe, including through the rulings of its main institution, the European Court of Human Rights.
It recently faced a backlash after agreeing to return Russia’s voting rights on June 24. Moscow’s voting rights had been suspended five years ago, among other sanctions imposed by the human rights watchdog following the annexation of Crimea. The decision was heavily criticized by activists and diplomats, who claimed it further undermined the standing of the Council of Europe as a defender of the rule of law.