Poland: presidential veto on access to the morning-after pill, the government ready to circumvent it

Poland's conservative president, Andrzej Duda, opposed a bill on Friday March 29 aimed at liberalizing access to the morning-after pill in Poland

Poland: presidential veto on access to the morning-after pill, the government ready to circumvent it

Poland's conservative president, Andrzej Duda, opposed a bill on Friday March 29 aimed at liberalizing access to the morning-after pill in Poland. Its use had been severely limited by the previous nationalist and populist government led by the Law and Justice party (PiS). The pill is no longer available without a medical prescription.

In accordance with its electoral promises, the pro-European Union (EU) coalition, in power since December, adopted a bill aimed at allowing free access to the morning-after pill from the age of 15. This text, which still had to pass the Senate, was approved on February 22 by 224 deputies (against 196).

Mr. Duda, a PiS ally and avowed Catholic, decided to “send the amendment to the law on pharmaceutical products back to Parliament with a request to review the law,” according to a presidential statement released Friday. The Head of State justified his refusal by respecting “standards for protecting children’s health”.

Andrzej Duda “cannot accept legal solutions allowing children under 18 to have access to contraceptive medications without medical supervision and without taking into account the role and responsibility of parents,” the statement said. However, he “declared himself open to the solutions envisaged by the law in question, with regard to adult women”, according to this text.

Prescription by pharmacists

“It’s a shame that the president is once again turning against the Poles,” Deputy Minister of National Education Katarzyna Lubnauer commented on X, adding that the government knew “how to deal with this obstacle.” Anticipating the presidential veto, the government had already announced that it would circumvent this obstruction.

“We have prepared a regulation (…). This pill will be available on pharmaceutical prescription,” delivered by a pharmacist, the Minister of Health, Izabela Leszczyna, announced on Wednesday on RMF FM radio. “If we don’t want women and girls to experience unwanted pregnancies, let’s do everything we can to make the pill as accessible as possible,” starting May 1, she added.

Magdalena Biejat, vice-president of the upper house of Parliament, also strongly condemned the head of state's decision: "Young girls should have access to it in the same way as adult women, because young people Girls can also get pregnant and different situations can happen that we should protect them from,” she told the press. She recalled that the age of consent for sexual activities is set in Poland at 15 years. “This is all the more reason [that young girls] have the right to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy,” she stressed.

Restriction of access to abortion

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), emergency contraception should be “systematically included” in all national family planning programs.

The debate over the morning-after pill coincides with attempts to liberalize Poland's abortion laws, one of the strictest in Europe. In this country with a strong Catholic tradition, abortion is currently only legal if the pregnancy results from rape or incest, or if it threatens the life or health of the mother. In 2020, the Constitutional Court sided with the previous government in declaring terminations of pregnancies for fetal malformation “unconstitutional.”

Several bills aimed at liberalizing abortion have already been submitted to Parliament, including a text tabled at the end of January by the political party of Prime Minister Donald Tusk. This bill would legalize abortion up to the twelfth week of pregnancy, or even beyond in the event of serious fetal malformation, pregnancy resulting from rape or a threat to the health of the pregnant woman.

In 2022, only 161 legal abortions were carried out, compared to around 2,000 before the law was tightened in 2020. According to feminist organizations, 100,000 women terminate their pregnancies each year using abortion pills, banned in Poland, or in going abroad.