Poland has long had some of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws, yet planned legislation would have taken that even further. Under the new proposals, all terminations of pregnancy would have been criminalised, and women would be punishable by law.
Under current legislation abortion is only permitted if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, if the foetus is severely damaged or the woman’s life is in danger. The proposed legislation would have made it completely illegal. Less than 2000 legal abortions are performed every year in Poland, which has a population of 38 million, but women’s groups estimate that between 10,000 and 15,000 abortions happen illegally or abroad.
The proposal was drafted by the hardline conservative group, Ordo Iuris and submitted by the Stop Abortion coalition after 450,000 people signed the petition. It has been given support by the ruling right-wing party, Law and Justice (PiS), the prime minister and from parts of the Catholic Church, which is very important in the country.
The legislation was adopted in principle by the parliament and a government committee was considering the proposal which calls for a complete ban on all terminations with no exceptions. Women could have been imprisoned for up to five years, and doctors found to have assisted with the termination for up to three.
The legislation was unclear about miscarriages; since it could be seen as terminations, there were also fears that doctors might be put off performing routine procedures in case they were accused of assisting a termination.
A separate piece of legislation has been proposed by PiS that would limit in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment. It would make it illegal to freeze embryos, as they believe that they are human from the moment of fertilisation. It would also only permit women to fertilise one egg at a time during IVF treatment, which would hugely decrease the likelihood of the treatment working.
On Monday 3rd, women took part in a national strike against the ban, dubbed Black Monday. In Warsaw alone over 20.000 people took part. The people taking part wore black as a symbol of mourning for the loss of women’s reproductive rights. The boycotts from work and housework took place all over the country, as well as in other European capitals, such as London and Brussels.
Following the protests, which were uncomfortable for the ruling party who claims to represent traditional values, the PiS has withdrawn support for the proposed abortion legislation and the ban will not be implemented. The government had been under strong international pressure to not pass the legislation, and a government official stated that the protests caused them to think, and taught them humility.