Poland needs a period of calm to discuss a ruling by the highest court that bans most abortions, a government spokesman said after the measure did not take effect on Monday as expected following two weeks of mass protests.
Widespread outrage among women and others greeted the October 22 ruling which bans terminations due to fetal defects, ending one of the few legal grounds left for abortion in a staunchly Roman Catholic country with a deeply conservative government.
While focused largely on abortion rights, the protests quickly turned into an outpouring of anger against the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government, its church allies and its traditionalist policies. On Tuesday two protesters stripped naked in front of the Presidential Palace.
The government’s publications department had initially said the court’s verdict would be enforced by November 2, but it has not yet been published in its official gazette, meaning it has not entered into legal force.
“According to the regulations, the judgment of the Constitutional Tribunal should be published in a timely manner,” government spokesman Piotr Muller told a news conference when asked about the delay.
“At the moment, however, we all need peace and discussion around this judgment, a quieting down of the public mood and discussions among experts.”
President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, has tried to defuse the protests by proposing a bill which would reinstate the right to abortion due to fetal abnormalities, although limited only to “lethal” defects.
Opposition politicians questioned whether the PiS could muster enough votes to pass the amendment, after parliament delayed a sitting scheduled for Wednesday for two weeks.
“…They don’t have any ideas how to resolve the situation in Poland, they do not have a majority in parliament (in favor of the bill), they are afraid to answer questions,” opposition Deputy Speaker Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska told reporters.
PiS lawmaker and Deputy Parliament Speaker Ryszard Terlecki rejected any suggestion that the government lacked a majority on the issue, saying the postponement was related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Poland’s Federation for Women and Family Planning said on Tuesday women had intensified efforts to get a legal abortion in recent days ahead of the court verdict coming into force.
It said it knew of 61 abortions performed in hospitals in less than two weeks since the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling, a rate of occurrence that would send the annual total well above that of 1,100 recorded in 2019.