Abortion law in Poland is one of the most restrictive in Europe. The standing law of 1993 allows abortion only in case of rape, incest, where the foetus is severely damaged, or if the mother’s life is in danger. It restricts abortion to necessary cases, but does not let the choice for women to take their own decision. Each year, there are only about a thousand legal abortions, which are executed in the whole country.
Consequently, a new proposal of abortion law proposed in April revived the debate. This proposal was shaped by a right-wing think-tank supported by the Catholic Church and the Law and Justice party (PIS). Indeed, new legislation aims to tighten authorised cases of abortion, what has given rise to mass protests. If passed, abortion will become a criminal act punished by a jail sentences up to five years, both toward women seeking abortion and doctors who carrying them out.
This anti-abortion campaign is mainly run by the “Stop Abortion” group which success to gather 450.000 signatures for their ban abortion’s petition and then reach the parliament. However, most polls on abortion in Poland do not show a strong willing of the population to make abortion unlawful. Instead, the majority of Poles would like to let things as they are. Thus, a division took hold the country; on the other side, the “Save women” committee has collected 250.000 signatures for allowing abortion upon request until the twelfth week of pregnancy.
In this way, the Sejm (low chamber of Polish parliament) considered the two draft regulations on September the 23th. Thereby, it is easy to find out the conservative aspect of the parliament; Indeed, though the Sejm rejected the proposal to expand access to abortion, they did back the other proposal for a full ban and considered that it deserved further debates in the Commission of Justice and Human Rights, the final stage before adoption.
This decision of the Sejm did not let the population indifferent. Two days later, on the 25th of September, first national strikes after Sejm’s decision took place in Poland. In Krakow, for example, it was thousand people standing in the main square, wearing black clothes to support the plight of women against this bill proposal. Because was no reaction by the government at the first glance, the national movement has intensified and the turning point was reached in October the 3rd. On this Monday, strikes took place in almost all cities of Poland – and several cities abroad –, women boycotting work and school for the day and city centres were full of black ribbon and coat hanger, symbolising illegal abortion.
Then, government and parliament has no choice than to hear the people. Former Minister of Justice and current Minister of Science and Higher Education Jarosław Gowin commented what people called « black Monday » by saying that demonstrations “caused us to think and taught us humility”.
It is no later than the 5th of October that parliament finally rejected the proposal by 352 votes to 58.
This U-turn made by parliament was felt as a real victory for Polish women, which realised that together empow(h)erment is possible.
But having said that, the issue of abortion occurred several times in Poland, and some worried that the battle is not over yet; women from Poland, women from Europe, but also male, should remain vigilant for their rights.
Aurélien Pommier, EST Ambassador to Poland, graduated from the University of Lorraine (France) in Law and in Economics. He is currently studying European Politics at the Jagiellonian University.