By Danuta Rydlewska
In early autumn, a hard fought societal compromise on abortion, enshrined in the abortion law of 1993, was put into question with two mutually exclusive draft laws debated by the Polish Parliament. The storm broke out on 23 September, when the members of the parliament decided to continue the legislative process on an ultra-conservative proposal effectively forcing women to give birth under any circumstances.
The Polish Abortion law of 1993 is one of the most restrictive in Europe. It allows women to terminate pregnancy only in three cases: if it puts the life and health of a pregnant woman in danger; if there is a high probability of an embryo damage or subject to a life-threatening condition; and if the pregnancy is a result of a crime. In July 2016, a citizens’ committee “Stop Abortion” submitted to the Parliament a draft law introducing an absolute ban on abortion and prison penalties for women who terminate pregnancy. The “Stop Abortion” petition was signed by over 450 thousands Poles and was supported by pro-life organizations. As a response, more progressive organizations submitted a draft law “Save the Women”, which granted women a right to terminate pregnancy until the 12th week, with the three above conditions applying in later stages of the pregnancy.
The immediate rejection by the Parliament of the draft “Save the Women” law and continuation of work on “Stop Abortion” provoked the so called “Black Monday” on October 3rd, a nationwide women’s warning strike followed by the “black protest” – over 140 demonstrations organized all over Poland and abroad with participation of over 100 thousands people. The Polish foreign minister described the protests as “marginal” and a “mockery” while the Archbishop in Lodz denounced them as a manifestation of “civilisation of death”.
However, the protests were acknowledged internationally, and on October 5 the European Parliament held a debate on women’s rights in Poland with the participation of Vera Jourova, the EU Commissioner for Justice.
Under this pressure, on October 6, the Polish Parliament rejected the „Stop Abortion” law with an overwhelming majority of 352 to 58 votes. Instead, the Prime Minister announced a support programme for mothers who despite disability or difficult pregnancies decide to give birth. The 1993 law stands untouched, but the Polish society remains deeply divided and the vivid debate and protests weakened the societal compromise on the issue of abortion.
Sadly this battle is not over. As the ruling party PiS plans on introducing their own changes to the abortion law, women do not put their umbrellas aside just yet and they are going to go on strike once again on October 23-24th, 2016.