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

Nevertheless, it was difficult to speak out openly against this ban in line with the position of the Catholic Church. It called the 1956 Act “criminal” and “Stalinist”, pointing out that people introduced to the Sejm in 1952 by Stalin voted to legalize abortion similarly to other countries of the former Communist Bloc. As the result, any explicitly proclaimed support for the Act was conceived as crossing a certain unspoken boundary between the so called “we” and “they”. It was the border that de facto organised the social imagination, constituting the basic element of legitimising the “Solidarity” movement. The division into “we” versus “they” became a key element in the electoral struggle in Poland at the threshold of the last decade of the 20th century.

The importance of the election campaign of June 1989 was that it preceded the first partially free elections in the history of Poland after World War Two. One of its basic assumptions was to convince people that “they are faced with a clear choice – either Lech Wałęsa’s team or the team that has been ruling Poland for over forty years”.25 During that time, the Catholic Church in Poland had enormous social capital in the form of trust in the institutions of the Church (estimated at around 95 percent), as well as a high percentage of professed believers in Poland (around 93 percent).26 Although the involvement of the Church in the June 1989 campaign clearly confirmed the institutional and symbolic ties between the opposition and the Church, it was not automatically translated into public support for the anti-abortion law.27

It is important to note that at the time the feminist movement in Poland was still dormant. Women were practically absent from politics, which was confirmed by the fact that only two women took part in the Round Table talks on the 1956 Act and the Church motion in Poland in 1989. In 1991, the Federation for Women and Family Planning was established. It was the first Polish non-governmental organisation supporting women who fight for health and reproductive rights.28

The political situation, shaped after 1989, resulted in a break with the legal theories based on Marxism that had been in force so far, and a move towards the concept of natural law formulated in a personalistic spirit. According to it, the aim of all analysis and research directed at man is to emphasize the uniqueness of every human person, especially in the aspect of its subjectivity.29 In 1993, the new law on family planning entered into force and was considered as a compromise between the vision of the Church and the secular authorities of the time. In accordance with the Act of 7 January 1993 on family planning, protection of the human fetus and conditions for permitting abortion,30 an abortion could be performed only in three cases: a) when pregnancy posed a threat to woman’s life or health (with mental health actually not being taken into account); b) if there was a high probability of severe and irreversible damage to the fetus of a disease that threatens its life (abortion was possible for the fetus to achieve the ability to live independently outside the body of a pregnant woman, which meant about 22-24 weeks) or c) if pregnancy resulted from a prohibited act such as rape or incestuous intercourse (abortion was possible up to 12 weeks).