Polly Vernon: How Abortion Rights Became Another Victim Of Coronavirus

While we've all been looking the other way, abortion access around the world is being quietly eroded...

ABortion legal in poland

by Polly Vernon |

The problem with the news being dominated by just two stories, each so epic that, under normal circs, only one would get a look-in (Trump and The Big C-One-Nine, duh) – is: nothing else gets covered. Stories that should light up our bulletins like Christmas are overlooked.

Take Poland, which, at the time of writing, was trembling in a state of beautiful, broiling civil unrest, after the ruling right- wing Law & Justice Party (the PiS) discovered its people weren’t going to take an attempt to ban abortion lying down.

Poland already had some draconian laws on abortion; on 22 October, its Constitutional Tribunal ruled that terminating a pregnancy on the grounds of severe foetal abnormality would no longer be lawful (leaving everyone’s faves – rape and incest – the only legal grounds). Given that foetal abnormality accounts for the vast majority of procedures performed in Poland – over 90% – this law would have effectively outlawed abortion altogether, if the women of Poland hadn’t risen up, hundreds of thousands taking to the streets, night after night, in flagrant but – may I be honest? – wonderful disregard for social distancing, forcing the government to back off. Only: who knows for how long? That’s the other thing about the news being dominated by just two stories: shty institutions, with shty agendas, can get away with shady sh**t, because no one’s looking.

On which: Northern Ireland. Despite abortion being decriminalised a year ago, Amnesty International last month pronounced abortion services a ‘postcode lottery’ in the region, following Health Minister Robin Swann’s ‘failure to... fund services’. Lockdown has made it virtually impossible for the women of NI to travel to the mainland to access abortion services – as they’d had to do historically, the cruel pity of which was ground zero on that 2019 decriminalisation ruling.

But Swann has resisted new telemedicine provisions, which allow women to take abortion pills at home (rather than in clinics) everywhere else in the UK – a change introduced in April to help women circumnavigate lockdown limitations... Why, it’s almost as if Stormont is faffing and heel-dragging deliberately, accidentally-on-purpose, forcing a year’s + worth of miserably pregnant women to have babies they do not want, and cannot care for.

Meanwhile, in Germany (quite astonishingly), the number of doctors capable of carrying out abortions is in sharp decline. Abortion isn’t legal in Germany, merely ‘unpunished’ up to 12 weeks; it isn’t taught in medical school, which means not many people know how to do it. This would be bad enough in itself, without anti-choice activists exploiting paragraph 219a – a law left over from the Nazi regime, which makes it a crime to ‘advertise’ abortion – to sue any doctors who do know. But, guess what? They are!

So it is that abortion access – that basic provision of healthcare, that cornerstone of women’s rights – is sneakily eroded, while the world’s attention is otherwise consumed.

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