The Polish Government’s proposed law of criminalising abortion hit headlines at the beginning of October, as widespread protests were organised across the country. Thirty thousand women went on strike in Warsaw alone on 3rd October, and as many as six million were expected to demonstrate across the country, naming the day ‘Black Monday’.
It wasn’t until 6th October that the Government rejected the proposed ban, with MPs voting 352 votes against and 58 for the bill, as a result of the widespread unrest.
“Such a highly negative view of contraception and abortion in the country must only increase the number of unwanted pregnancies each year”
Thousands of women from around 60 different Polish cities refused to work; donning black outfits, they joined their fellow protesters to oppose the blanket ban of abortion. The proposal was announced by the government (currently led by the right-wing party ‘Law and Justice’ [PiS]) after a petition of 450,000 signatures for stricter abortion law was presented to parliament by a citizens’ initiative anti-abortion group.
Poland has an extended history of strict abortion law since the downfall of communism and the increased popularity of right-wing politics in the country. The Catholic Church has also long been criticised for its involvement in Polish politics, with this subject being widely studied by various academics.
Currently, the law only permits abortions under very specific circumstances: a) if the pregnancy is a result of a criminal act, b) if the foetus is severely damaged or has an incurable illness that threatens its life, c) if the pregnancy threatens the life or the health of the pregnant woman. This does not include the fact that a doctor can refuse an abortion under ‘moral grounds’, which happens regularly.
Compared to the majority of other European countries, Poland’s current law is already incredibly strict. This ban would not only increase the amount of women who require an abortion to seek a high risk or expensive alternative (be that black market abortion pills, backstreet abortions, or travelling outside of Poland).
It has also been suggested that this law would be in clear breach of their human rights. The law would mainly infringe upon the ‘freedom of conscience’ of pregnant women and doctors, as stipulated in the Human Rights Act.
Not only has this proposed law brought into question women’s reproductive rights, but also the debate surrounding women’s reproductive health. Statistics have shown that less than two thousand legal abortions are carried out each year in Poland, however, thousands more who are not approved for a legal abortion are forced to seek illegal backstreet abortions, or travel across the border to Germany to carry out the procedure.
This shows that the demand for abortions is not diminished based on the law. The restrictions on abortion only increase the health risks for Polish women who are refused a legal abortion.
Further adding to this debate is the view of contraception in Poland. As an estimated 96% of the population identify as Roman Catholic, this greatly contributes to the negative view of contraception in the country.
A journal article published in 2000 by Susan Gal and Gail Kligman, stated that only 2.2% of women who took part in a poll used hormonal contraception, and 40% of women in the poll said that they had never used any form of contraception. The majority of these women cited the shame of buying contraception, religious grounds, and lack of accurate information as the reasons for not using contraception.
Such a highly negative view of contraception and abortion in the country must only increase the number of unwanted pregnancies each year.
By introducing formal education on reproductive health, including reliable and scientific information regarding contraception, and allowing women to have the autonomy over their own bodies, all would significantly decrease the risks that some women take to abort an unwanted pregnancy. Unfortunately, in the current political climate it is unlikely that this will be happening in the near future.
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