Senior judicial opponent of gov’t wants to help it over abortion crisis

Professor Andrzej Rzepliński, the former Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court and opponent of the ruling party’s judicial reforms told “Dziennik Gazeta Prawna” daily that if Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki or the ruling Law and Justice party leader Jarosław Kaczyński would ask him for his help to resolve the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing protests against the ruling on “eugenic” abortion, he would agree.

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“If it could help and it would be a discussion about Poland, the state and its condition, then why not? It would not be a nobilitation, but neither would it be a shame. It would be a result of a feeling that in face of such a crisis as pandemic and a wheelspin of all axes of our state, we have to act together. If Mr Kaczyński or PM Morawiecki asked me for help, I would agree. One cannot submit to obstinacy,” Mr Rzepliński said.

He also stressed that he is against abortion of children with Down Syndrome and cannot “imagine Poland without them.”

“I have understood how necessary they are, and the society without people with Down Syndrome would be poorer, although it is going that way. The systematic removal of people of some categories, such as those with Down Syndrome, takes place,” he said.

Andrzej Rzepliński also said that he was saddened as a Catholic and horrified as a citizen at the form the protests were taking. He said that attacking people’s homes was unacceptable and that he would himself defend Jarosław Kaczyński in such circumstances.

“There is no my approval for howling at Mr Kaczyński’s windows. You don’t like him? Then you should have properly voted in the election. I can disagree with him, condemn his policy, but if the life of Mr Kaczyński was endangered, I would protect him, because this is my character. There cannot be an approval for lynching,” Mr Rzepliński stressed.

He also urged the Church leaders not to “hide themselves away” but to attempt to talk to demonstrators. He also appealed to Parliament to amend the family planning act so that it was clear in exactly what circumstances abortion could take place.

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Andrzej Rzeplinski was chief justice of the Constitutional Court when the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) came to power. He is a human rights lawyer with conservative views on abortion which to this day he considers to be a form of killing. In the noughties he was critical of how the judiciary was unaccountable and often self-serving. But as a chief justice of the Supreme Court he was a vocal opponent of the judicial reform introduced by the ruling party. He criticised it for undermining the independence of the judiciary.

The fact that he has offered an olive branch to the government and Mr Kaczyński suggests that he and many other judges who are still opposed to the government's judicial reforms are becoming aware of the dangers of the current situation that the Polish state finds itself in. They instinctively recoil against mob rule and threats to overthrow the existing order.

Mr Rzepliński’s views are a reminder that the constitutional court has been taking a conservative stance on abortion for a very long time. Back in 1997 it actually nullified legislation that liberalised abortion rights as it deemed that life begins at conception and not at birth.

His words will not endear him to the protesters and will come as a disappointment to many opposition politicians. But Mr Rzepliński believes that the present crisis may present an opportunity for dialogue and reflection on the part of the ruling party on the way it has handled its relations with the judiciary and the legal profession.