Abortion is currently only legally permissible under certain strict conditions in Poland. If the pregnancy constitutes a threat to the life or health of a woman, if prenatal examination indicates heavy, irreversible damage of the embryo, or if an incurable illness threatens the embryo’s viability, then it is legal. It is also legal if there is justified suspicion that the pregnancy is the result of an illegal act – but that must be confirmed by a prosecutor. The Federation for Women and Family Planning has estimated that around 150,000 illegal abortions are carried out in Poland each year, while legal abortions number only around 1,000 per annum.
But in September this year the Polish government agreed to consider a Bill in parliament that would effectively ban abortion altogether. Women who have abortions could be jailed for up to five years under a law backed by Polish MPs which would almost completely ban terminations even in cases of rape or incest. Opponents of the bill have argued along with depriving women over the choice of what to do with their own bodies, a complete ban on abortion would fuel an underground, and at times dangerous, market for the procedure, and drive pregnant Poles to seek abortions abroad.
So October 3rd Polish women organised a nation-wide strike in protest at the Government’s plans. It was called Black Monday and supported by trade unions and tens of thousands. In dreadful weather, Polish women across almost 200 town and cities inPoland, and across the world, took to the streets to protest. They took their inspiration from a strike by women in Iceland in 1975, when 90% of women refused to work, clean or look after children in protest at discrimination in the workplace.
Many employers sanctioned a day off and shops, museums and restaurants were closed. The protests in the heart of Warsaw paralysed the Polish capital. Protesters wore black clothes and waved black flags to signify the loss of reproductive rights and the future deaths of Polish women under a complete ban on abortion.
As a result the government withdrew support for the anti-abortion legislation, but then began working on its own abortion bill, which is likely to propose that so-called “eugenicabortions” – abortions on the grounds of foetal congenital deformity – to be outlawed. Given that out of 1,044 legal abortions in Poland in 2015, 1,000 were permitted on these grounds, this would still result in a virtual ban on abortion.
As a result of the government’s trickery Polish women are calling for an International Day of Action to defend abortion rights on October 24th.