On Thursday May 25th, Poland’s Law and Justice party (PiS) pushed a bill forward that includes provisions to limit access to emergency contraception (the “morning-after pill”) only to those with a prescription.
This controversial bill has successfully moved past the lower house of Parliament in Poland and could move through the Senate and be signed by Polish President Andrzej Duda by as early as this August.
Many have viewed this bill as a threat to women’s autonomy. In 2014, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended that the emergency contraception EllaOne be sold without need for a prescription, on the basis that the drug is safe and effective for women’s use. The European Commission adopted the decision of the EMA in 2015, amending the pills’ market authorization and causing the vast majority of EU countries to allow its sale without a prescription. Currently, Poland is one of the only EU countries to consider prescription-only limitations on emergency contraceptives.
Debates surrounding this bill have centered on women’s rights and health concerns. In terms of health, the Polish government has argued that the provisions will make the consumption of emergency contraception safer, as they will have to consult a doctor about their health before receiving the pills. However, many argue that the provisions will block women from accessing emergency contraceptives in due time for them to be effective, or perhaps even at all. Consequently, many believe that health is not the principle concern in this debate. As Natalia Broniarczyk, spokeswoman for the Federation for Women and Family Planning, stated to Reuters UK, “this is a politically and ideologically motivated decision not based on the concern for women’ heath and safety.”
This is not the first time in recent past that Polish women have stood up against a decision made by the Polish government. In October, a mass protest arose, effectively halting the PiS’s proposal of a law prohibiting abortion. The hashtag #czarnyprotest (black protest) created during this protest is now being revived in opposition to the provisions on emergency contraceptives.
Moreover, the question remains to what extent the Polish government holds women’s concerns as a priority. A report published on May 31st by the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality found that Poland’s main source of gender equality funding is received from the EU, with the biggest direct impact resulting from European Structural and Investments Funds (ESIF). While efforts to reduce gender inequality may be present at the EU level, it is still questionable to what extent the political reality in Poland inhibits these funds from creating tangible change for women on the ground. In terms of emergency contraceptives, women in Poland will have to hope their voices will be loud enough to be heard at governmental level once again.