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Abortion could soon be banned in Poland, and women are fighting back

The strike is the latest in a series of actions over the tightening of abortion laws in the mostly Catholic country.
REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

Women across Poland went on strike Monday as part of ongoing protests against proposed legislation that would effectively ban abortion. Current law allows terminations only in cases where the mother or the fetus is at high risk, or in cases where the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest.

The proposal was originally put forward by the conservative organization Ordo Luris, making use of a feature of Polish government whereby Parliament will consider a petition if it draws at least 100,000 signatures. In this case, the petition got over 450,000 signatures.


The strike is the latest in a series of actions over the tightening of abortion laws in the Eastern European country. For the past two weekends, thousands of women lined the streets outside the Parliament in the capital Warsaw, wearing black and carrying placards with messages such as "Girls just wanna have fundamental human rights." The crowds included women of all ages, as well as some men.

Poland already has some of the most restrictive reproductive laws in Europe, and many worry new laws might serve to criminalize women and their doctors, leading to miscarriages being investigated by the police and routine procedures like caesareans not being carried out for fear that the fetus might die. Professor Romuald Debski, who works at a hospital in Warsaw, explained to Polish media: "If I have a patient with pre-eclampsia who is 32 weeks pregnant, I will have to let her and her child die… because if I perform a caesarean section and the child dies, I may go to prison for three years, because the child was premature."

The day of strike action was inspired by the so-called Women's Day Off in October 1975, when the women of Iceland refused to work, look after their children, or do any housework, to protest a lack of equal rights. The protesters in Poland aim to raise awareness of women's plight regarding abortion, but it's particularly challenging in the largely Catholic country of 38 million, as the Church supports the proposed ban.


The strikers have gotten lots of support on social media, though, with women in other countries tweeting photos using the hashtag #czarnyprotest (Black protest):

MASSIVE turnout in Warsaw — Exen (@Exen)October 3, 2016

7 men discussed abortion rights in Poland in tv yesterday ????— Ola Sitarska (@olasitarska)October 3, 2016

Berlin in solidarity with Poland in the fight against barbaric anti-abortion laws! — Julia Damphouse (@remarksist)October 3, 2016

You're not alone, London stands with you — Amnesty UK (@AmnestyUK)October 3, 2016

According to National Health Fund data, there were 1,812 abortions in Poland in 2014, but according to the Federation for Women and Family Planning, the number of terminated pregnancies could be more like 80,000 a year, or higher if you include illegal procedures and those undergone abroad.