Engerer breaks ranks to support MEP vote condemning Polish abortion ban

Newly-elected Labour MEP joins 455 MEPs in supporting resolution condemning abortion ban in Poland by ‘judges dependent on ruling politicians’

Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer
Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer

Malta’s newest Labour MEP, Cyrus Engerer, has broken ranks with the traditional abdication of Maltese members in Brussels to support reproductive rights, by supporting a resolution condemning the abortion ban in Poland.

MEPs on Thursday condemned a setback to women’s sexual and reproductive rights in Poland by stressing the EU’s legal obligation to uphold and protect them.

Engerer was the only Maltese MEP to vote for the resolution, adopted with 455 votes to 145 and 71 abstentions.

The MEP said that the ruling of 22 October by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal to make abortion illegal in cases involving severe and irreversible foetal defects “puts women’s health and lives at risk”, as most legal abortions in the country are performed on those grounds. Banning that option, which accounted for 96% of legal pregnancy terminations in Poland in 2019 – 1,074 out of 1,110 – would lead to an increase in “unsafe, clandestine and life-threatening abortions”, MEPs warned.

The text notes that the decision was made by “judges who are elected by and are fully dependent on politicians from the ruling coalition led by the Law and Justice Party (PiS)”.

Labour MEPs Josianne Cutajar and Alfred Sant abstained. Alex Agius Saliba was not present or did not vote. Nationalist MEPs Roberta Metsola and David Casa voted against – just 33 MEPs from the Euorpean People’s Party voted against. The resolution was backed by the major parties.

In their resolution, the MEPs said unhindered and timely access to reproductive health services, and respect for women’s reproductive autonomy and decision-making, was critical to protecting women’s human rights and gender equality.

“Women’s rights are fundamental rights... EU institutions and the member states are legally obliged to uphold and protect them,” the resolution states.

MEPs also pointed out out that Polish medical professionals are increasingly invoking the conscience clause, even when asked to prescribe contraceptives, or to prevent access to prenatal screening. “Thousands of Polish women are forced to travel abroad every year to access a health service as essential as abortion, further endangering their health and putting their wellbeing at risk,” they added.

MEPs expressed their support and solidarity with Polish citizens, in particular women and LGBTI+ persons who “despite the public health risks, took to the streets to protest against grave restrictions on their fundamental freedoms and rights”.

Tey said the ruling was “yet another example of the political takeover of the judiciary and the systemic collapse of the rule of law” in Poland.

MEPs asked the Commission to assess the unlawful composition of the Constitutional Tribunal. According to the Parliament, the Tribunal’s composition constitutes grounds for challenging its rulings and thus its ability to uphold the Polish Constitution. The Council, for its part, should address this and other allegations of violations of fundamental rights in Poland in the framework of the Article 7(1) proceedings.

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