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

It used the term “fetus removal” which was different from the 1956 Act that called the same act “termination of pregnancy”. It was the mother’s health condition that became the subject of the new Act, and the protection of the child’s life began to be determined by her medical, legal and economic conditions.15

Under this law, an abortion could be performed at a woman’s request after submitting a statement concerning their life situation. In the context of the difficult living conditions of the woman, a simplified procedure was adopted for issuing a medical termination decision by the doctor, as it was done only on the basis of the woman’s declaration stating the existence of these conditions.15 Due to the anticipated size of the phenomenon and insufficient hospital infrastructure in the country, the legislator de facto also left an emergency door: after being referred, the procedure could be performed anywhere by a qualified doctor with sufficient professional preparation. The purpose of introducing such a law was to discourage women from using the help of unqualified people. Doctors who terminated pregnancies during this time were only required to verify women’s declarations until 1959.16

It can be assessed that during the period of the Polish People’s Republic the permissibility of abortion was found to be easier to implement than to combat the causes of this phenomenon. In practice, after 1959 abortions were performed on a woman’s request.17 Nevertheless, the Regulation of the Ministry of Health of 1959 imposed some new obligations on doctors. According to the regulation, doctors were to provide women with the addresses of institutions where pregnancy could be terminated, instruct them on how to prevent unwanted pregnancy, provide them with a prescription for an appropriate contraceptive, inform them about the need to report for check-ups after the abortion and periodically appearing in the “clinic for women and conscious motherhood”, and to provide them with appropriate information materials on methods of pregnancy prevention. As the result, contraceptives became available and sex education was introduced in schools.

The high number of abortions due to social reasons proved that this procedure was an important technique for birth control in the Polish People’s Republic. Importantly, according to the declarations introduced to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Poland in 1976, the state was to care “for the development of the nation, cares for the family, motherhood and upbringing of the young generation” and “cares for the health of the society”. In the opinion of the government, the aforementioned amendments to the Constitution of 1976, however, did not provide sufficient justification for amending the 1956 Act on the conditions for the admissibility of abortion.18

The first more important attempt to limit broad access to abortion in Poland, under the 1956 Act, was the submission of a motion to the lower house of parliament (Sejm) to the People’s Republic of Poland, in December 1977 by the Polish Committee for the Defence of Life, Family and Nation. The motion aimed to abolish the conditions permitting abortion.

This initiative, supported by the then Primate of Poland, Stefan Wyszyński, EVOLUTION OF THE ABORTION LAW 5 was focused on the interest in this issue among the broadest possible circles of society, especially the clergy, doctors, lawyers and democratic opposition groups. However, it failed, as the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare announced there would be no legal changes, as the 1956 Act contributed to the reduction of the number of abortions and protected against abortions performed by people without proper qualifications.19