Warsaw, Poland – The Polish government is ramping up efforts to urge the Czech Republic to put an end to so-called “abortion tourism” and prevent Polish women from travelling across the border to terminate their pregnancy.
Poland asks Czech government to prevent “abortion tourism” legislation
On Monday, the Polish government confirmed previous media reports indicating that Antoni Wrega, the chargé d’affaires of the Polish embassy in Prague, had sent in March a two-page letter to then Czech Health Minister Jan Blatny asking him to block a legislation being discussed in Parliament designed to clarify the rules for foreigners to receive an abortion in the Czech Republic.
“From the point of view of Czech-Polish relations, we perceive it as unfortunate if legislative proposals to legalise commercial abortion tourism are openly justified by the intention to circumvent Polish legislation protecting unborn human life, and if those proposals have the purpose of encouraging Polish citizens to break Polish law,” the March 10 letter stated, cited by Respekt.
According to the Czech weekly, M. Blatny in response insisted that providing abortion for Polish women on Czech territory was in line with both domestic and EU law, and that there was nothing his ministry could do to intervene in the legislative process.
The move follows an October ruling by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal which said abortions in cases of malformation of the foetus were unconstitutional, leading to a de-facto near-total ban on abortion in Poland and triggering mass protests across the country.
Near-total abortion ban in Poland
Before last year’s ruling, Poland already had one of Europe’s strictest abortion laws, and only around 1,000 abortions were performed legally in the country each year. However, between 150,000 and 200,000 Polish women decided to terminate their pregnancy illegally or resorted to travelling abroad – including Germany, Czech Republic and Slovakia – to receive an abortion.
The October constitutional ruling, which came into force in January and which critics say was directly orchestrated by the conservative ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, only accelerated the trend, according to women’s rights activists, pushing more and more women to seek help from abroad and face the additional hurdles caused by the pandemic and travel restrictions.
“Childcare is harder to arrange, there is the quarantine when you get back. All these things take place in a situation that was already difficult and made it even harder,” Mara Clarke, the founder of the Abortion Support Network, told Kafkadesk. “But to me, it shows what women who don’t want to be pregnant are ready to do.”
“Those who come to us are people who are often scared to undergo this procedure in Poland, and often don’t even tell their family,” Jolanta Nowaczyk, one of the women behind the Auntie Czechia collective, told The Guardian at the end of last year. “Some have already been rejected from Polish hospitals.”
Poland’s secretary of state at the Foreign Ministry Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek on Sunday defended the request formulated by the Polish diplomat. “It was understandable that the Polish embassy was concerned about the possible introduction of legislation which would represent an attempt to circumvent Polish law and encourage the violation of the rights of Polish citizens in Czechia.”
“We are not living in that world”
He added that Poland was ready to discuss “the effects of the measures described on Polish-Czech relations” in an unusual veiled threat directed at its neighbour and Visegrad Group ally.
“This is a joke, it’s just an imaginary thing created by this minister, but we are not living in that world,” Justyna Wydrzynska from Abortion Dream Team, told BIRN.
“The visions and pleas of Polish politicians whose imaginations have been overwhelmed by values proclaimed from church pulpits will not have any impact here,” Auntie Czechia said in a statement, reminding Czech laws allowing abortions up to the 24th week of pregnancy for health reasons and slamming the Polish government’s “vision of the state of Gilead” in reference to the dystopian world depicted in the best-selling novel and hit Hulu show The Handmaid’s Tale.
Main photo credit: Strajk Kobiet Facebook page.