Legislation in Poland reducing women’s access to the morning after pill has been widely condemned as an affront to European values. The new law requires the contraceptive to be available as a prescription drug only and consequently, women and girls aged 15 and over will be required to make an appointment with a doctor to obtain the pill.
Sophie in’t Veld, the Dutch liberal MEP has branded the legislation a violation of shared European values “The current populist national-conservative Polish government is enforcing a sexual counter-revolution, against the health interests and wishes of Polish women and girls” she said.
“Restricting access to the morning after pill, combined with the right of doctors to refuse treatment based on religious grounds, will have far reaching consequences”.
Polish campaigners and MEPs in Brussels say the change will have the greatest impact on rape victims and those living in isolated areas of the country. The European commissioner for health, Vytenis Andriukaitis said he “personally regretted” the Polish government’s legislation, a spokesman said.
A spokesperson for the International Planned Parenthood Federation said, “On women’s rights, we are faced with a two-speed European Union where girls living in the right place can get free contraception, including over-the-counter emergency contraception, while others face an uphill struggle”.
“In Poland, even if you are a teenage rape victim, you will now have to fight to find a doctor who might, or might not, help you. The new Polish law passed by the country’s chauvinist authorities allow abuse of power by doctors who may feel that they have a right to judge the sexual lives of women based on their own moral convictions. As Europeans, we cannot stay still and watch”.
The Polish government has hit back with a response from the health minister Konstanty Radziwill, that the legislation was necessary as hormonal means of contraception were being abused and could result in harmful health effects.
However, the EMA has deemed the pill as a safe option and in 2014, advised that ellaOne, the most common pill used in Poland “can be used safely and effectively without medical prescription”.
More criticism has come from Amnesty International in Poland “We consider it as another blow to women’s rights, it will affect teenagers and those in remote rural areas, and will have a particularly catastrophic impact on rape survivors”.
Poland is a conservative country with some of the most restrictive laws on abortion in Europe. All terminations are banned under current legislation, and the only exemptions are those pregnancies that result from incest or rape, where the foetus is severely deformed or if the pregnancy presents a health risk to the mother.
In 2016, the Polish government proposed a bill permitting abortion only in cases where the woman’s life was at risk. The parliament rejected the bill, partly due to street protests held by tens of thousands of women who opposed the proposal.