Evolution of the Abortion Law and its Practice in Poland Against the Background of the Current Legal Framework in New Zealand

Author: Eska-Mikołajewska, J
Published in National Security Journal, 05 April 2021

However, at the time of the 2017 election, poll results conducted by the New Zealand Election Study also showed a majority of New Zealanders supported the right to access abortion on request.74 On this basis, it can be concluded that the Abortion Legislation Reform would finally be completed after Bill’s final reading by a margin of 68 to 51.75 Abortion is now available in New Zealand until the 20th week of pregnancy and only a qualified health practitioner can provide an abortion. After 20 weeks, a pregnant woman would require a test and two doctors will have to agree an abortion is the right decision. Abortion, until recently the only medical procedure still on the New Zealand crime list, has now become, by repealing section 183 of the Crimes Act 1961, one of the legally offered medical services.


Poland and New Zealand are the countries where until recently abortions were the subject to a criminal sanction. Currently, in both of these legal orders we are dealing with a change, but it has gone in a completely different direction.

In New Zealand, which was the first country in the world to grant voting rights to women76 and main constitutional roles of Prime Minister, the Governor General and the Chief of Justice are now held by women, debates on liberalising of the abortion law have been somewhat muted. Given the extremely low public support for change (over 60,000 people signed a petition calling on New Zealand deputy-Prime Minister, Winston Peters, to ensure the Government withdrew the Bill)77, rapidly narrowing the gap between MPs opposing and supporting the Bill on the final stage of the legislative process should be considered as another success of Ardern’s government – this time made during the Coronavirus pandemic. Abortion is now considered as a medical issue, not a moral one. In accordance with the applicable law, a woman no longer has to be assessed by a health practitioner for mental or physical wellbeing before 20th week of pregnancy, which in the last 40 years of the restrictive abortion law was excessively abused.

The example of Poland is interesting as long as we consider the several decades of evolution of the abortion law, which was considered very liberal even in the pre-war years. From today’s perspective, it can be measured at that stage of development only as moderately liberal, although compared to other Acts of this type in contemporary Europe, it could be one of the most permissive. The right to abortion has become one of the most important and social issues in recent years. Furthermore, the public mood has been radicalised against one of the most restrictive laws, under international law interpreted even as a form of violence against women.78 Polish women rebel against the deprivation of their right to make independent choices: realise their rights to decide about themselves.

After 1989, the situation of women in Poland worsened. Women were burdened with the problems of the political transformation as economic and social reforms were considered to improve the situation of all social groups, while the actual impact on women’s life situation was secondary.79 But women who have already gained economic and social power in many areas now are united, but by the fundamental issue: they did not agree that the legislation regarding abortion would deprive them of their free choice, namely the possibility of expressing their opposition to the entire system of reproductive rights in Poland.

And if we agree that the new abortion law in New Zealand truly reflects New Zealand in the 21st century80, the Polish reality in which women are forced to risk their lives and give birth to children (including those who cannot be cured and have dysfunctions) takes the country back to pre-1989. According to UN experts, with this ruling, “(…) Poland has effectively slammed the door shut on legal abortion for women (…)”81 Indeed, Poland positions itself among the most severe of anti-abortion legislation within the developing countries of Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.