KEY POINTS

  • Poland's constitutional court has ruled almost all abortions illegal
  • Critics say that women seeking abortions must now do so illegally, risking jail time
  • The move ignited protests nationwide, leading to at least 15 arrests

Protests sprang up around Poland as the country’s highest court banned almost all abortions.

The constitutional court ruled Thursday that abortions were only constitutional in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the mother. That leaves 98% of Poland’s abortions illegal, which critics warn will result in criminal investigations for mothers suffering miscarriages.

Protesters outside Poland's constitutional court on Thursday, which has opened the door for the country's abortion laws to be tightened Protesters outside Poland's constitutional court on Thursday, which has opened the door for the country's abortion laws to be tightened Photo: AFP / Wojtek RADWANSKI

The law in question related to the constitutionality of aborting children with congenital defects that would result in disability later in life. Lawyers arguing against the practice said that it was tantamount to eugenics, discriminating against the disabled.

Those cases made up the bulk of 1,110 abortions performed in 2019, reports the Associated Press. Under the new ruling abortions would only be legal in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the mother. Those cases made up only 2% of abortions in 2019, as Poland’s laws were already unusually stringent for a European country.

Poland has been steadily tracking conservative under the influence of the strongly Catholic Law and Justice party. Restrictions on abortion have been one of Law and Justice’s goals, and they made good on that promise with Thursday’s court ruling. 

Protests occurred across the nation in response, including outside the house of Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

The demonstrators outside Kaczynski’s home carried signs saying “Torture” and eventually escalated to throwing stones and pushing through a security cordon, leading to arrests. Overall at least 15 people were arrested at the protests.

Women’s rights activists told CBS News the ruling could lead to a scenario in which any woman who sought an abortion may have to do so illegally, thus risking jail time. Another consequence could be the prosecution of women who experience miscarriages and are suspected of having an illegal abortion.