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TOPIC: law and justice


Is Poland Ready To End Its Notorious Anti-Abortion Regime?

Three years after a landmark ruling severely restricted abortion rights in Poland and sparked massive protest movements, the public mood has shifted in favor of liberalizing the law. With a centrist political party poised to take power, will legal abortions return to Poland, asks Anita Karwowska in Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza.


WARSAW — At 3.30 pm on October 22, 2020, Poland's Constitutional Tribunal released a statement announcing that terminating pregnancy in the case of severe fetal deformities – allowed under a 1993 law – was now unconstitutional. With that one verdict, the tribunal effectively enforced a near-total ban on abortions in the country.

The ruling sparked immense public anger. Hundreds of thousands of Polish women joined protests, many braving a severe clampdown by the police. But the tribunal's action played into the hands of Jarosław Kaczyński's Law and Justice party (PiS), which had been afraid to directly ban abortion via the parliamentary route. Termination of pregnancy in the event of a severe fetal defect was the most common reason for legal abortion in Poland until Autumn 2020. Every year, approximately 1,100 of these procedures were performed in Polish hospitals.

After the law was changed, abortion remained permissible only in cases of rape and when the pregnancy presented a threat to the woman's health and life. However, doctors often felt pressured to interpret the law more broadly than the regulations decreed, lest they face criminal liability even for terminating a pregnancy that threatened a woman's life.

Certain hospitals also refused to perform abortions on "moral" grounds. This past May, a woman, known publicly only by her first name, Dorota, died after the hospital she was being treated denied her an emergency abortion. After her water broke early, Dorota’s condition worsened, and doctors did not inform her husband or parents about the extent to which her life was at risk. A few hours before her death, her unborn child died as well.

According to the religious website Wiara.pl, the Polish Catholic curia has ordered certain hospitals named after former pope John Paul II, including the one in which Dorota died, to sign declarations that they would not carry out abortions. Women are therefore afraid that in the event of complications, their doctor's priority will be to protect the fetus, even at the cost of their life.

Since October 2020, the worst-case scenario that women's rights activists warned against has come true: Polish women have died at the altar of the anti-abortion regime. “In recent years, we have buried seven women who lost their lives because of the inhumane anti-abortion law. Abortion is not an ideological issue. This is a matter of women's safety, our health and life,” Natalia Broniarczyk from the rights’ group Abortion Dream Team (Aborcyjnego Dream Teamu) told Gazeta Wyborcza.

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After Pro-Democracy Surge In Poland, Is Viktor Orban's Hungary Next?

In its latest parliamentary elections, Poland opted to oust the ruling party, PiS, from power. Now will Viktor Orbán's Hungary, a victim of democratic backsliding, be able to do the same. Political scientist and economist Bálint Madlovics and sociologist and former Hungarian Parliamentarian Bálint Magyar investigate.


WARSAW — For years, Hungary and Poland have fallen victim to the two most dangerous attempts of governments to build an autocratic system from within the European Union. But although both countries stood out in their tendencies towards authoritarianism, the erosion of democracy and the rule of law in these two countries was of a fundamentally different nature, and took place on a different scale.

The victory of the opposition in Poland's elections on Sunday may stop this process, and put the country back on the democratic path. In Hungary, there is practically no chance for this to occur anymore.

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The process of building an autocratic order has three phases: initialization, autocratic breakthrough and consolidation. This allows us to understand the difference between both countries.

Poland under the rule of PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński was still in the initial phase of the autocratic system, while in Hungary a breakthrough had already taken place.

The Fidesz party, led by Viktor Orbán, won a two-thirds majority of seats in parliament in 2010, which allowed it to amend the constitution. Unlike Kaczyński's PiS, Fidesz gained a monopoly of political power in Hungary. Orbán not only changed the Constitution, but also appointed his people to managerial positions in the institutions that make up the system of systemic security (checks and balances).

For nearly 15 years, we have been witnessing the consolidation of the autocratic system in Hungary: the media, economic entities and social organizations have been deprived of their autonomy and subordinated to the authorities. This eliminates the possibility of change, because systemic alternatives to authoritarianism no longer have an institutional or social base.

These differences in the level of advancement of an authoritarian system constructed within both countries are most clearly visible when we compare last Sunday's elections in Poland with the Hungarian elections in 2022. The former is described as "free but unfair," while the Hungarian elections are referred to explicitly as “manipulated”.

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Women Were Key To The Opposition's Victory In Poland — Don't Forget Us Now

Poland’s historic parliamentary election had a record turnout of 74%, with an opposition coalition ousting the ruling conservative party, PiS, from power. With women voting in greater numbers than men, their votes were crucial in securing these results. Now, the opposition owes them policies that they demand.


Ahead of the Oct. 15 national elections in Poland, much of the public debate described women as disengaged, and predicted that half of all young Polish women would not vote at all.

The result of this was an unprecedented outpouring of pro-turnout campaigns flooding the Internet — especially on social media. Some campaigns were apolitical, while others directly encouraged people to vote for the democratic opposition and unseat the ruling party, which, like no other in the history of Poland, has trampled on women's rights.

The history of women’s rights violations under the Law and Justice (PiS) party were countless. Not only did they deny women the right to abortion and safety in maternity wards, but also humiliated teachers while they were on strike, disregarded domestic violence and chose to fight the recommendations of the Istanbul Convention on violence against women.

The party also didn’t address the gender wage gap, tried to hurt single mothers with tax changes in the Polish Order and to deny them their monthly 500+ child benefit payments (which ultimately failed) and pushed Polish women into the kitchen and the cradle to restore the mythical ideal of the Polish "traditional family."

The turnout of women in these elections undoubtedly had an impact on the outcome. Exit polls from the last elections showed that if only women had voted, PiS would not have held onto power. And, compared to the discourse about electoral passivity that claimed that Polish women would be passive in this year’s elections, women voted in even greater numbers than men this year.

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Polish Elections: Liberal Democracy Is Still Alive And Kicking

The results from the landmark Polish election, which saw a surge by liberal and center-right parties, is long awaited good news for the European Union... and not-so-good news for Viktor Orban.


PARIS — Poland has provided the world with a fine illustration of the difference between an "illiberal" regime and a dictatorship. The country's ruling party Law and Justice (better known by its initials, PiS) falls perfectly under said "illiberal" label, having greatly undermined the independence of the judiciary and curtailed press freedom in recent years.

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But the national-populist party lost the general election on Sunday, to an opposition front led by former prime minister and former European Council leader Donald Tusk. This was anything but a done deal, be it only because of the continuous, if crude, attempts to discredit Tusk.

This relative defeat of the PiS — the party is holding its own in terms of votes but has seen the collapse of its potential far-right ally — is an important political moment for Europe.

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Katarzyna Skiba

Will Poland Leave The EU? Historic Election Sparks “Polexit” Fears

The Polish government has frequently clashed with the European Union, stoking fears that a “Polexit” may be on the horizon, depending on the results of the country's upcoming election where a far-right anti-EU party could play the role of kingmaker.


On Sunday, Polish voters will go to the polls in what opposition leader Donald Tusk called “the most important election since 1989," when Poland held the first free elections after the fall of communism.

The election follows a bitterly-fought campaign between the right-wing ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS), and the liberal-centrist opposition, Civic Coalition (KO). Poll numbers remain close, with 37% of voters supporting PiS, and 30% supporting the main opposition coalition.

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With neither major party expected to win a majority in parliament, extra attention has fallen on smaller parties which may help the largest party form a governing coalition.

Konfederacja (Confederation), a far-right party, is marked as a potential kingmaker, to form a coalition with the current conservative ruling party. This has prompted a range of fears about policies that Konfederacja could impose on a future government — chief among them is the specter that it could push PiS to follow the UK's Brexit, and pull out of the European Union.

It's a scenario that some have dubbed: Polexit.

More than half of opposition supporters are concerned that if PiS wins the elections, it will seek an exit from the EU, according to an IBRiS poll reported on Polish news site Interia.

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Katarzyna Skiba

In Mexico And Poland, Women Candidates Defy National Cultures Of Misogyny — And Win

Mexico is on the cusp of getting its first woman president. And in Poland, the upcoming elections will see the highest-ever number of women running for office. Two landmarks for nations where the patriarchy has long reigned supreme.


This election cycle has been a historic one for women in Poland and Mexico. Though the latter recently welcomed a landmark decision on abortion rights, both countries have had a grim past when it comes to women’s rights — including high levels of femicide in the case of Mexico and strict abortion restrictions in Poland.

Still, both countries are on track to hold elections that could prove historic for women, with Mexico expected to inaugurate its first woman President, and Poland nominating a record number of female candidates to parliamentary positions.

In the face of controversy and political challenges, women in these countries are determined to have their voices heard.

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Katarzyna Skiba

Why Poland's Draconian Anti-Abortion Laws May Get Even Crueler

Poland has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. Several parties vying in national elections on Oct. 15 are competing for conservative Catholic voters by promising new laws that could put women's lives at risk.


In 2020, Poland was rocked by mass protests when the country’s Constitutional Tribunal declared abortions in the case of severe fetal illness or deformity illegal. This was one of only three exceptions to Poland’s ban on abortions, which now only applies in cases of sexual assault or when the life of the mother is at risk.

Since the 2020 ruling, several women have filed complaints to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after giving birth to children with severe fetal abnormalities, many of whom do not survive long after birth. One woman working at John Paul II hospital in the Southern Polish town of Nowy Targ told Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza that a patient was forced to give birth to a child suffering from acrania a lethal disorder where infants are born without a skull.

However, even in cases where abortion is technically legal, hospitals and medical professionals in Poland still often refuse to perform the procedure, citing moral objections.

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Antoni Tokarczuk

Poland Elections: I'm Catholic, And Will Never Vote For The Ruling Catholic Party

In this editorial for Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, former Polish Senator, Solidarność activist, Member of Parliament, and Environmental Minister Antoni Tokarczuk examines what he calls the “true motivations” of ruling party Law and Justice leader Jarosław Kaczyński, and warns against his use of the Church for his party’s gain, especially ahead of the upcoming Parliamentary elections.


WARSAW — I had the opportunity to get to know Law and Justice leader Jarosław Kaczyński, and what really motivates his political candidacy — and the real reasons are far different than those he claims in order to pull the wool over the eyes of the Polish public.

I’m writing about this topic as a graduate of sociology from the Department of Christian Philosophy from the Catholic University of Lublin, and a currently practicing Catholic, but also as a former social and political activist, with extensive personal experience in the public arena. I was, among other things, a co-founder and member of the highest authorities of the first branch of the Solidarność ("Solidarity") movement and a participant in its underground activities, after martial law was introduced in Poland. Later, I continued my political work as a senator, Member of Parliament and as Poland’s Minister of the Environment.

But, perhaps the most important point in all of this, is that I happened to be the deputy president of the now-defunct Christian Democratic Center Agreement ("Porozumienie Centrum") political party, and Kaczyński’s direct successor at a time when he suspended his political activity. Therefore, I had a great opportunity to get to know the current Law and Justice (PiS) leader in depth.

Through this, I discovered his true approach to values and moral principles, rather than those created out of his own political calculation. As a result, I cut all contact and collaborative efforts with him, both as a politician, and as a person.

For over 20 years, I have not actively participated in the political life of this country. In this current moment, which will be a vital one on the path to Poland's future, I feel a moral imperative to speak publicly on the issue in question.

I do not want to speak as a politician, but rather as a person who is categorically opposed to the instrumental, nefarious use of the Catholic religion and its institutions for the party’s unbridled ambitions and lust for power. I am opposing the unauthorized appropriation of a religious banner, which calls itself the “only Catholic party” in order to cover up its true activities, which are in fact contrary to the essence of Christianity.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Bartosz T. Wieliński

Poland's Break With Ukraine Weakens All Enemies Of Russia — Starting With Poland

Poland’s decision to stop sending weapons to Ukraine is being driven by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party's short-term electoral calculus. Yet the long-term effects on the world stage could deeply undermine the united NATO front against Russia, and the entire Western coalition.


WARSAW — Poland has now moved from being the country that was most loudly demanding that arms be sent to Ukraine, to a country that has suddenly announced it was withholding military aid. Even if Poland's actions won't match Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s words, the government has damaged the standing of our country in the region, and in NATO.

“We are no longer providing arms to Ukraine, because we are now arming Poland,” the prime minister declared on Polsat news on Wednesday evening. He didn’t specify which type of arms he was referring to, but his statement was quickly spread on social media by leading figures of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

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When news that Poland would be withholding arms to Ukraine made their way to the headlines of the most important international media outlets, no politician from PiS stepped in to refute the prime minister’s statement. Which means that Morawiecki said exactly what he meant to say.

The era of tight Polish-Ukrainian collaboration, militarily and politically, has thus come to an end.

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Dorota Roman and Weronika Fabjańska

Meet Wanda Traczyk-Stawska: Warsaw Uprising Veteran, Nazi Survivor, Feminist Activist

Now 96, Wanda Traczyk-Stawska survived the Warsaw Uprising 79 years ago and has continued to fight for Poland. This time, however, her battles are for her fellow women.

WARSAW — Earlier this month, Poland marked the 79th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. The battle aimed to liberate the city from Nazi occupation and regain Polish sovereignty before the impending Soviet invasion. It was the single largest European resistance movement during World War II, and lasted for 63 days with little support from outside forces. The end, however, was catastrophic, with 16,000 fighters pronounced dead, 6,000 badly wounded, and an estimated 150,000–200,000 civilians killed.

Wanda Traczyk-Stawska survived the uprising after being seriously injured and taken as a German prisoner of war for three years. Afterward, she earned a degree in psychology at the University of Warsaw and started a school for children with special needs. Now, at the age of 96, she continues her work as an activist— now speaking out against Poland's current leaders.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Bartosz T Wielinski

Fear Or Fear-Mongering? What's Lurking Behind Poland's "Wagner Panic"

The presence of Russian Wagner paramilitary troops near the Polish border has sent the country's prime minister into a panic, while on the campaign trail. But are worries about the presence of a mere 100 mercenaries justified or is it somehow part of Mateusz Morawiecki's scare tactics, as in 2015?


WARSAW — The presence of an estimated 100 Wagner mercenaries near Belarus’s border with Poland has sent the country's leader into a panic. Though many who watched the Wagner group stage a failed coup in Russia believe that Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is being reasonably cautious, his recent behavior surrounding the Russian mercenaries has been called thoughtless and irresponsible by others.

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Traveling across Poland during his party’s electoral campaign, Morawiecki has made multiple references to the threat represented by the mercenaries sent in recent weeks to the Grodno region of Belarus, near the Polish border, for joint exercises with the Belarusian army.

Apart from Poland, Belarus also shares a western border with Lithuania. Our two countries are connected by the Suwalki gap, an ill-defined 60-100 km strip of land that Morawiecki and others say the Wagnerites want to exploit. However, in neighboring Vilnius, the atmosphere around Wagner has been cautious, but not more than that. The same can be said of nearby Latvia.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner group, and a war criminal who recently tried to overthrow Russian President Vladimir Putin, must be delighted with Morawiecki’s response. Moving 100 mercenaries was enough to send the head of the government in the fifth-largest EU country into a tailspin.

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Piotr Żytnicki

Poland's Right-Wing Government Is Now Targeting Judges, Personally

Polish Judge Joanna Knobel has became the victim of a hate mail campaign targeting, among other things, her Jewish background. With new threats being sent to other judges in recent weeks, the country is faced with a dangerous deepening of the divide that puts the institution of a free judiciary.

POZNAŃ — A witch hunt promoted by the Polish government and amplified by state media has led to a flood of hate mail and threats targeting a judge who recently acquitted pro-choice protesters who demonstrated during a Catholic mass in 2021.

Judge Joanna Knobel became a target of Poland's current ruling party and Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro in March, when she acquitted 32 people accused of interrupting mass in a Poznań Cathedral. This was the longest trial for peaceful protests since the Law and Justice party (PiS) took power in 2015.

The protesters had demonstrated in a cathedral in Oct. 2021, after Poland’s government dramatically restricted access to abortions. The archbishop of Poznań, Stanisław Gądecki, publicly thanked the country’s leaders for the new abortion laws. In response, masses of young people stood in front of the altar with signs. The priest stopped delivering his sermon, and the police were called in to arrest the protesters.

Now, following the acquittal in March, a slew of comments, both in letters addressed to judge Knobel, and left online, have left her fearing for her personal safety.

“This is what a common whore for sale looks like. Her name is Joanna Knobel and she represents lawlessness."

“The pathological judge Joanna Knobel stated that the protest was not malicious. This clearly proves that she is intellectually disabled!"

This is not the first time that Poland's judiciary has come under fire from the current ruling party Law and Justice, also known as PiS. Last month, the top EU court struck down PiS's judicial overhauls, which included publishing online declarations of judges' memberships of associations, non-profit foundations or political parties. The European Court of Justice declared that these policies were anti-democratic, that they violated judges' right to privacy, and that they undermined the rule of law in Poland.

These interventions have caused the EU to have "serious doubts" on the future "independence and impartiality" of the Polish court, as expressed in a statement by the European commission.

In 2021, Poland was fined 1.1 million euros per day by the European Court for failing to dissolve earlier judicial reforms, which included a newly established body to oversee its supreme court judges, which had the power to lower their salaries or lift their immunity from prosecution.

Last year, the situation became so grave that several Polish judges went on a "Constitution Tour" of Poland, in an attempt to defend law and democracy in the face of the ruling party's increasing attacks on judicial institutions.

Ahead of national elections this fall, the Polish judiciary has once again become a target of right-wing political mobilization. But rather than attacking the judiciary as a whole, the ruling party has now decided to go after specific judges like Knobel on a personal level.

On Monday, Gazeta Wyborcza reported that a judge who sentenced a far-right militant, Marika Matuszak, to three years in prison for aggravated robbery, was also receiving threats and being accused of political biases.

Judges told Gazeta Wyborcza that they cannot recall a similar situation ever taking place, with correspondence targeting Knobel flooding in from all over Poland. This is the result of a campaign unleashed after the verdict by politicians and government media.

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