What is the deal with abortion in Poland?

What’s the matter with abortion in Poland?’ has been one of the most frequent questions. I have been asked by my international friends recently. Currently, Poland has one of the strictest abortion laws in the world. Abortion is only legal in cases of rape when the woman’s life is in jeopardy, or if the fetus is irreparably damaged. Thus the vast majority of abortions take place illegally/ Obtaining a legal abortion is very difficult, as many doctors are conscientious objectors and refuse to perform them. Estimates of illegal abortions per year put the numbers between 10,000 and 150,000, compared to only 1,000 – 2,000 legal abortions.

The current debate started in April 2016 when Polish so-called pro-life organizations proposed to ban abortion in all cases except to save the woman’s life. The bill included penalties to abortion providers with up to five years of imprisonment. It passed and was debated in Sejm, beginning 22 September . The Sejm voted with the majority in favor of continuing work on the bill. A competing bill, proposing liberalization of abortion laws and also supported by a civil initiative, was rejected outright in the same session of Sejm.

The bill stirred outrage and hundreds of thousands of women and men, not only from Poland, took to social media to show their disagreement by taking pictures of themselves all in black and sharing them with #blackprotest, #Polishwomenonstrike hashtags.

On October 3, thousands of Polish people went on strike to oppose the proposed legislation for a total ban on abortion. The strike was modeled on the successful strike for women’s rights in Iceland in 1975. It involved refusing to attend school, work, or participate in domestic chores. The pro-choice protesters marched, wearing black clothes and some of them even painted black tears on their cheeks, in Warsaw, Gdańsk, Łódź, Wrocław, and Kraków, and there was a huge support from demonstrators across Europe who marched in solidarity. Approximately 30,000 protestors of all ages showed up to decry the new bill. When asked why they were protesting older people said that it was for their daughters and granddaughters and younger ones that government and church are not to take decisions for women. Some of the slogans became viral; Black Monday got media attention from all around the world and all major newspapers and TV channels were discussing it. However, supporters of the new legislation held counterprotests known as ‘White Protest‘ and Catholic Masses to express alignment with the abortion ban.

By October 5, politicians were distancing themselves from the proposed legislation in the wake of new polls suggesting that 74% of the people are supporting the current legislation. On October 6, lawmakers voted the bill down with plans to present a counterproposal from the government. In the meantime, the PiS politicians came up with a new law ‘For Life’ whose purpose is to prevent abortions of damaged fetuses by giving 4000 PLN ( about 1000 €) to women after they give birth. One PM even considered giving the money to women who would give birth to a child from rape. It has been one of the most controversial laws and has been widely discussed and criticized in the media since its proposal in the beginning of November.

No one knows what is going to be done about this very serious law, which involves half of the nation. When passed it will symbolize either freedom of choice or the lack of it. What is sure, though, is that Polish women have the spirit to fight for their rights and there are thousands of women abroad supporting them.

by Wiktoria G.