Poland’s prime minister has admitted that it was a “mistake” for MPs from his ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party to submit the application that led the Constitutional Tribunal (TK) to introduce a near-total ban on abortion in 2020.
Mateusz Morawiecki says that he “has always been a supporter” of the abortion law that existed before the TK ruling and he believes that tightening the law may have contributed to PiS losing its parliamentary majority at last month’s elections.
Powyborcze rozliczenia Mateusza Morawieckiego. „Wniosek do TK w sprawie aborcji był błędem” https://t.co/EVWL2gnGp4
— Onet Wiadomości (@OnetWiadomosci) November 4, 2023
In 2020, the TK ruled that abortions justified by the diagnoses of severe birth defects in the foetus – which had previously made up almost all legal abortions in Poland – violated the constitution.
That ruling was made in response to a request from a group of 199 MPs, the majority of whom were from PiS. The TK is also widely seen as being under the influence of PiS. Its chief justice, Julia Przyłębska, is a close personal associate of PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński.
Senior PiS figures expressed their support for banning what they call “eugenic abortions”. In 2016, Kaczyński declared that he would “strive to ensure that even very difficult pregnancies, when the child is condemned to death, is severely deformed, will end in birth, so that the child can be christened, buried, given a name”.
However, the ruling was extremely unpopular among the general public. It prompted the largest protests since the fall of communism, with hundreds of thousands of Poles taking to the streets. Opinion polls have regularly shown that a large majority oppose the ruling.
In an interview with news website Interia published on Saturday, Morawiecki was asked if PiS’s disappointing election result last month was in part caused by residual anger over the abortion ruling.
“There were certainly mistakes on our part,” he agreed. “The application to the Constitutional Tribunal in this case was a mistake.”
“Regarding abortion, I will answer you directly: I have always been a supporter of the abortion compromise from 30 years ago,” he added. “Abortion compromise” is the term used in Poland to refer to the 1993 abortion law that existed before the TK ruling.
Support for allowing abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy has risen to 70% in Poland, the highest level ever recorded by @Ipsos.
Various polling shows that support for access to abortion has increased since a near-total ban on abortion was introduced https://t.co/gzzxQjHQyr
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) November 16, 2022
Morawiecki’s remarks are not the first time he has expressed such a position. In June this year, he told news weekly Wprost that he has “always been and still am a supporter of the abortion compromise”.
However, before the current election year, he has not explicitly spoken out against the abortion ruling. Indeed, soon after the TK abortion ruling was issued in October 2020, Morawiecki gave a speech that appeared to justify it as protecting unborn life.
“Freedom of choice is indeed a fundamental issue. But I think we all agree that to exercise this freedom, one must be alive. One who is dead cannot exercise it,” he said.
“Therefore, although freedom of choice is an important right, it is limited by the fundamental right to life, which determines whether freedom of choice can be exercised at all,”
— Rzeczpospolita (@rzeczpospolita) October 27, 2020
The prime minister’s latest declaration that he never supported the abortion ruling was met with ridicule from opposition figures.
“Now Morawiecki will say everything people want to hear, previously he only did what Kaczyński wanted,” said Tomasz Trela, an MP from The Left, quoted by news website Gazeta.pl. “A fraudster will always be a fraud.”
“When Isabella, Dorota and others died, he was silent,” tweeted Barbara Nowacka of the Civic Coalition (KO), referring to pregnant women who died in hospital, with protesters blaming their deaths on the abortion ban.
“When the police clubbed [abortion] protesters, when doctors and NGOs were intimidated, he remained silent,” she continued. “The prime minister could have prevented tragedies. Disgusting guy.”
Po porażce PiS notoryczny kłamca Morawiecki „zawsze byłem zwolennikiem kompromisu aborcyjnego sprzed 30 lat”
Gdy umarła Izabela, Dorota i inne milczał. Gdy policja pałowała protestujące, gdy zastraszano lekarzy i ngo – milczał. Premier, mógł zapobiec dramatom. Obrzydliwy typ.
— Barbara Nowacka (@barbaraanowacka) November 4, 2023
A coalition government made up of KO, The Left and another opposition group, Third Way (Trzecia Droga), is likely to take power this month or next. All three have expressed support for undoing the TK abortion ruling. However, they differ on how this should be done.
KO and The Left have pledged to introduce some form of abortion on demand up to the 12th week of pregnancy, which would represent a more liberal system than the “compromise” that existed up to 2020.
However, Third Way, which is more conservative than the other two groups, prefers a return to the pre-TK-ruling status quo. It has proposed holding a referendum to allow the public to decide the form of the new abortion law.
A further complication is that any attempt to liberalise the law could be vetoed by President Andrzej Duda, who is a conservative and an ally of PiS, or deemed unconstitutional by the TK, where a majority of judges are PiS appointees.
We answer 12 questions about Poland’s new government, including:
1. How will it be formed?
2. Will it be stable?
3. How will it tackle rule of law and abortion?
4. Can it unlock EU funds?
5. Will it face presidential vetoes?
Read our full analysis here⬇️https://t.co/oLK33waftV
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) October 23, 2023
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Main image credit: Daniel Gnap/KPRM (under CC BY 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 Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.