Ex-PM says he and “many PiS colleagues” favour overturning abortion ban introduced under their rule

Mateusz Morawiecki, who led the former Law and Justice (PiS) government that oversaw the introduction of Poland’s near-total abortion ban, now says he and “many PiS colleagues” would vote in favour of a proposal by one of the country’s new ruling groups to overturn that ban.

In December, the national-conservative PiS party was replaced in power by a more liberal coalition led by Donald Tusk. Two of the groups in that coalition – Tusk’s centrist Civic Coalition (KO) and The Left (Lewica) – want to not only end the near-total abortion ban but also introduce abortion on demand.

Around half of the public support a proposal recently put forward by PM @donaldtusk to introduce abortion on demand in Poland, two new polls have shown https://t.co/tp022SOOXZ

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) February 2, 2024

However, the third group in the coalition, the centre-right Third Way (Trzecia Droga), has proposed the more conservative option of returning to the status quo that existed before the ban, which was introduced in January 2021 on the basis of the ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal (TK) issued in October 2020.

That pre-ruling status quo was already one of Europe’s strictest abortion laws, allowing pregnancies to be terminated in only three circumstances: if they threatened a mother’s life or health; if they resulted from a criminal act (such as rape); or if a severe birth defect was diagnosed in the foetus.

The TK deemed the third of those circumstances to be a violation of the constitutional protection of life. Previously such abortions had constituted over 90% of legal terminations in Poland.

The TK’s ruling was issued at the request of PiS MPs and was implemented by a PiS government led by Morawiecki. The TK itself is also seen as being under the influence of PiS, whose chairman, Jarosław Kaczyński, is a close personal associate of the tribunal’s chief justice, Julia Przyłębska.

However, speaking to the media on Wednesday, Morawiecki declared that he “supports Third Way’s idea [to] return to the abortion [law] that was in force in Poland for 30 years…If a vote takes place in parliament, I will support a return to such a compromise”.

He added that “there are many [of my] colleagues in PiS who also support it”, but said it would be “a matter of conscience” as to whether individual MPs from the party – which is now Poland’s main opposition group – voted for or against such a bill.

In his remarks, however, Morawiecki did not address the constitutional questions involved. The government he led argued that it was obliged to introduce the near-total abortion ban as a result of the TK’s ruling.

Morawiecki now supports returning to the pre-2020 abortion “compromise”. Either

a) he thinks the Constitutional Tribunal’s judgment is invalid;
b) he thinks the judgment should be ignored;
c) he thinks the constitution should be amended to remove right-to-life protection. https://t.co/kNuZcoe5XZ

— Ben Stanley (@BDStanley) February 28, 2024

If Morawiecki and others in PiS now favour overturning that ban, they would in effect be arguing that the TK ruling is invalid, that it should be ignored, or that the constitution should be changed to allow such abortions (which would require the approval of at least two thirds of MPs).

In November, shortly after PiS lost its parliamentary majority at elections, paving the way for Tusk’s new government, Morawiecki admitted that it had been a “mistake” for his party to push for the TK’s abortion ruling. He claimed he had “always been a supporter” of the previous legal status quo.

However, that declaration was met with ridicule from figures in the new ruling coalition, who noted that Morawiecki had never spoken out against the abortion ban while in power and had instead emphasised his pro-life views.

Poland’s prime minister has admitted it was a “mistake” for the ruling party to push for the constitutional court to introduce a near-total abortion ban in 2020.

He claims “he has always been a supporter” of the abortion law that existed before the ruling https://t.co/QObza3Raxk

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) November 6, 2023

It remains uncertain what will happen next with the abortion law. KO and The Left do not appear to have enough support from their more conservative partner Third Way to pass their bills introducing abortion on demand.

But if the Left and KO do not support Third Way’s “compromise” bill, then it is also almost certain not to pass, even if it receives some backing from PiS.

Moreover, any bill approved by parliament will also have to be signed by conservative, PiS-aligned President Andrzej Duda, who could instead choose to veto it. It is also possible that the TK may try to declare any such law unconstitutional.

The centre-right wing of Poland’s ruling coalition has proposed a bill to reverse the near-total abortion ban introduced in 2021 but not allow abortion on demand, as its coalition partners want

It says only such a „compromise” has a chance of being passedhttps://t.co/zwRu08jWoB

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) February 24, 2024

Notes from Poland is run by a small editorial team and published by an independent, non-profit foundation that is funded through donations from our readers. We cannot do what we do without your support.

Main image credit: KPRM (under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 PL)

Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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