Making abortion illegal again…

Are Poland’s already restrictive abortion laws about to get stricter? 

Poland is already home to some of the strictest abortion legislation in Europe. 

According to Amnesty International, as it currently stands legal  abortion is conditional on one of three factors: the foetus was conceived through rape or incest, the mother’s life is in danger or there is severe or fatal foetal impairment. 

Even in cases where abortion is legal, there are many societal barriers that women must overcome in order to access treatment. The “conscience clause” for example, permits medical professionals to refuse care based on their own personal or religious beliefs. Furthermore, the sex education provided in Polish schools is far from the international standard, perpetuating damaging gender norms and stereotypes, anti-lgbtq+ and anti-rights narratives. 

Plans under the “Stop Abortion” Bill first surfaced in March 2018 and then again in October 2019, and were both met with mass protests. The bill seeks to eliminate one of the existing provisions, making abortion illegal even in the case of severe or fatal foetal impairment. 

Human Rights Watch have stated that the Bill was “drafted and backed by right-wing groups, including the conservative, anti-abortion, and anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture”. 

But the attempts to further restrict abortion rights in Poland didn’t begin with the 2018 Stop Aboriton Bill. In 2016 protests that became known as the Czarny Protests (Black Protests) and Strajk Kobiet (Women’s Strike) successfully led to the rejection of a bill that proposed a complete ban on abortions throughout Poland. 

As a member of the European Union, one would hope that the women of Poland would have their human rights protected, but when it comes to abortion rights there are very few international protections. Poland is one of 6 European countries with highly restrictive abortion laws, alongside Andorra, Malta and San Marino where there is a complete ban on abortion, and Leichtenstien and Monaco, whose laws are similar to that of Poland. 

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, making abortion illegal does not stop abortions from happening, it simply endangers and criminalizes innocent women who wish to exercise freedom over their own bodies.

Reversing Roe

Abortion rights have long been one of the most controversial human rights. In a world where women are gaining more and more control over their lives and their bodies, political moves such as Georgia, USA’s “heartbeat bill” spark civil dispute and rightly strike fear into the hearts of young women everywhere. 

Abortion in the United States became legal in 1973 in the famous case of Roe v Wade and is now considered a Constitutional right. So why 46 years later are States like Georgia beginning the process of reversing Roe? And why should we be fighting to stop them? 

The heartbeat bill makes it illegal for a doctor to provide an abortion once a “heartbeat” has been detected. This usually happens at around 6 weeks. Plot twist – this “heartbeat” is not a heartbeat, but the first signs of cardiac activity. At 6 weeks a fetus has not yet formed a heart. 

Most women do not find out that they are pregnant until the sixth week or later. In a state where abortion laws are already stringent and maternal death rates are amongst the highest in the country this bill would make abortions inaccessible for so many women. Luckily this assault on women’s reproductive rights has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge and will be reconsidered in October this year. 

Georgia’s attack on women’s right not scary enough for you? You’re in luck! Georgia was only 1 of 16 US states that proposed heartbeat bills in 2019. Terrifying. 

One of the most frustrating things about anti-abortion laws like this one is the clear disregard for the dangerous situation that it’s putting women in. Criminalising abortion doesn’t stop abortions. You aren’t saving the lives of the babies you are claiming to protect, you are just putting the lives of their mothers at risk. Women facing an unwanted pregnancy will find a way to terminate. Whether they do this themselves using medieval methods, find an illegal, unsafe back-alley doctor to perform the abortion for them, or if they are fortunate enough to be able to afford to travel somewhere that respects women’s rights. They will abort. 

We have been fighting for women’s rights since the concept of human rights was born. We have come an incredible distance in that time but the fight is not over. The struggle continues.

Human Rights Day: Young Defenders of Human Rights

Today marks 71 years since the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and people across the world are celebrating International Human Rights Day. This year the UN announced the theme would be “youth standing up for human rights”. So instead of looking at another human rights violation, this post is going to look at the uplifting activism of three young people across the world. 

Karin Watson (Chile) : Women’s Reproductive Rights 

Karin comes from what she describes as a “privileged background in a struggling country”. She has been campaigning for increased abortion rights for women in Chile and argues that whilst 2017 saw a lift on the absolute ban of abortions, there is a lot more work to be done to ensure safe and legal abortions for all women. Along with a friend she set up Que Se Sepa! a platform that aims to erase the stigma around abortions by providing a safe space for women to share their own stories. Alongside her campaigning for reproductive rights, she is an advocate for increasing human rights education. 

Adélaïde Charlier (Belgium) : Environmental Rights 

Youth fighting the climate crisis is certainly not a new concept anymore, with young people across the world causing a stir by missing school to protest the inaction of world leaders in fighting climate change. The most famous of these young faces is Greta Thunberg, but there are many more young climate activists out there, including Belgium’s Adélaïde Charlier. In an interview with Amnesty International, she talks of the growing traction her strikes gained, growing from 350 people initially to over 35000 young people striking together. She finished by saying “We took a risk by skipping school, but it’s what we have to do if we want to make change happen!”

Marsel Tuğkan (Turkey): LGBT Rights 

The space for human rights in Turkey is ever-shrinking but Marsel is fighting hard to ensure it remains open and vibrant. Amidst a growing campaign of intimidation against the LGBT community in Turkey, and ahead of the 2018 pride march in Istanbul, Marsel said: “Now, it is more important than ever to show solidarity, both for one another within the community and as a show of strength for the rest of the country.”

These young activists are a glimmer of hope amongst an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty within the global human rights community. In a world where an old white man accused of multiple sexual crimes is the leader of the United States and where a Nobel Peace Prize winner is on trial for genocide, we could use a few more inspirational human rights defenders like these three.