Poland’s conservative leadership said they would no longer support a total abortion ban after thousands of women took to the streets Monday, boycotting school and work to protest the proposed law. Minister of Science and Higher Education, Jaroslaw Gowin, says the protests have “taught us humility.”
The right-wing government, empowered by a petition circulated by the coalition Stop Abortion, had proposed a total ban on abortion that would include a five year prison term for women who terminated a pregnancy and jail time for doctors assisting with the procedure.
Even women who suffer a miscarriage would have been subject to jail time if they could not prove that the miscarriage was not intentionally induced. In addition, doctors could be prosecuted if a pre-mature baby happens to die after a lifesaving C-section late in a woman’s pregnancy, as often has to happen if a woman develops pre-eclampsia.
Abortion in Poland is already banned unless the woman’s life is in danger, there is irreparable damage to the fetus or if the pregnancy is a result of a rape as confirmed by a prosecutor. These are already some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe and 74 percent of the Polish public opposed a further tightening of the restrictions.
Even though that initiative has been squashed, lawmakers are already considering a “compromise bill,” banning abortion in the case of fetal abnormalities, forcing women to carry pregnancies to term in cases where the fetus is already dead or would only survive minutes outside the womb.
While the protest temporarily blocked the extreme outlawing of all abortions, pro-choice leaders hope the temporary success and solidarity will galvanize more women into the movement to legalize abortion for all. In an article written by Polish feminist activist Natalia Skorczylasm, she writes, “We are expected to die to satisfy the conscience of others. In practice, we already have a total abortion ban.” She continues, “The rejection of the draft law by Ordo luris is a positive step. But merely debating it was taking a few steps back. Now we go forward. The Black Protest must go on.”
Many Polish women seeking safe and legal abortions are forced to travel into Germany or buy pills online. It is estimated that 150,000 Polish women access illegal abortion methods every year, while only 1,000 are eligible for legal abortions under current law.