Poland’s opposition leader Donald Tusk has moved sharply left on issues such as abortion, same sex unions, and the separation of church and state. His statement supporting abortion on demand for up to the end of the 12th week of pregnancy, and the declaration that he will not allow any opponents of that policy in his party’s ranks onto the party’s parliamentary candidate list marks the end of an era in his party’s politics.
The left of both his party and the left-wing parties in Poland have long criticized Tusk that in his spell as prime minister between 2007 and 2015, his party, the Civic Platform (PO), did nothing to change the law on either abortion or same sex unions. The party’s line was to avoid such issues for fear of creating divisions among its own ranks and voters. The abortion compromise, making it legal only in cases where the woman’s health was in danger, there was damage to the fetus, or the pregnancy had come about as a result of rape or incest, which existed in Poland since the 1990s suited the party just fine.
But the abortion status quo fell apart in 2020 when the constitutional court ruled against the legalization of abortion in cases of damage to the fetus. It was a ruling that had been sought by both the church and many in the ruling Law and Justice Party to stop what they deemed to be eugenic abortions. The decision led to huge protests on Poland’s streets in the autumn of 2020 and political pressure on the liberals to support abortion on demand. The genie had been let out of the bottle and would not be coming back.
Donald Tusk is deliberately making abortion take center stage in Polish politics — there is no other way of reading his decision to make the issue one in which the party’s MPs will be expected to toe the line. No more freedom of conscience. It also means that his party is now unlikely to have one list with the Polish People’s Party (PSL) with whom it is allied in the European Parliament. The PSL and Szymon Hołownia’s “Poland 2050” are only prepared to support a national referendum on the matter and would not support railroading abortion on demand through parliament.
The PO leader’s gambit means that a conservative wing inside the party will no longer be tolerated. That is, the wing of the party that had taken seriously PO’s founding declaration, which cited the Ten Commandments. PO has certainly been on a journey — just a year ago, Tusk evaded questions on same-sex unions and abortion.
But the new direction taken by Tusk and the party he leads will impact the whole political scene. By making abortion a central issue in Polish politics, he is putting the ruling party in some discomfort with many Law and Justice voters being against the clamp down on abortion affected by the constitutional court ruling of 2020. It was noticeable how the ruling party’s poll ratings fell the most when the abortion controversy raged and there were mass demonstrations on Poland’s streets.
Finally, Tusk has also thrown a gauntlet down to the Left which has for years been pushing for liberalization of abortion, legalization of same-sex unions, and separation of church and state. The PO leader may have taken their oxygen away and will hope to take their electorate too. The voters the left still has, according to the polls, amount to around 10 percent of the electorate, pretty much the amount by which Tusk’s party still trails the ruling PiS in most polls.