By Mahak Paliwal
On January 11, 2018, the Sejm, Poland’s lower house of parliament, tabled a bill put forth by the Life and Family Foundation. This bill has now been sent to the parliamentary commission for amendments. The bill imposes restrictions on abortion in the country by illegalising the abortion of sick foetuses and bans the termination of pregnancies that involve irreparable damage to the foetus. Also, the bill provides a punishment of five years for doctors who perform such abortions.
Opposition legislation was rejected
On the same day, parliament rejected another bill which was proposed by an activist group which would have liberalised the laws on abortion in the country. This bill, entitled “Save Women,” would have decriminalised abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy and would have mandated sex education for Polish students and made free contraception available. It also included a ban on protests that portray pictures of foetuses.
Under the current law, women can only undergo an abortion in three circumstances. First, when pregnancy was a result of rape or incest act. Second, when the mother’s or foetus’s life is in danger and lastly, where there exists a grave fatal defect. Although the government has never officially supported abortion as a woman’s reproductive right, statesman such as Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and the deputy justice minister Patryk Jaki have privately shown their support.
The legislation has provoked mass protests
Parliament’s latest moves on abortion have failed to gather much support, rather they sparked protests in about 50 cities on January 17. A group of Polish women activists took over the streets of the country to protest against further restrictions on the country’s abortion laws, which are already Europe’s most restrictive. The demonstrators gathered outside Parliament in Warsaw carrying placards that contained slogans like “Shame!”, “Women will die without abortions” and Shame!”, “Except for wombs we also have brains,” and “Deja Vu Polish Women on Strike.”
Monica Costa Riba, a campaigner for Amnesty International’s Women’s Rights in Europe said: “With the victory of the Black Protest still fresh in their minds, women across Poland will once again take to the streets, standing together against proposals which would strip them of their rights and endanger their health.” The protestors wore black-coloured clothes to show empathy for the women whose reproductive rights are being infringed upon.
To spread the message across the world, the protestors also took to social media. On one Facebook post, they demanded a “feminist revolution” which was supported by the hashtag #SaveWomen. The protestors demand that, if the abortion laws are not going to be liberalised, the current grounds on which abortions are permitted will at least remain unchanged.
Activists are organising on both sides
Anna Karaszewska, a member of the pressure group “Let’s Save Women 2017,” said, “The women whose rights and freedoms are being violated today have been left to face this problem alone.” Maja, a 25-year-old girl present at the protest said, “As everyone, I‘m here because the government is enforcing solutions that hit women, ignoring women’s voice. These changes are being introduced without any consultations.” “The parliament decided to continue work on a crazy project, but I am not sure if our protest will change anything,” said Bogumila, an 18-year-old protestor.
On the other hand, Polish lawmakers and supporters of the anti-abortion legislation like Law and Justice Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski responded against the protestors. Kaczynski insisted that the government, “will strive to ensure that even in pregnancies which are very difficult, when a child is sure to die, strongly deformed, women end up giving birth so that the child can be baptised, buried, and have a name.” The Conservative Catholic weekly Gosc Niedzielny also responded to the protesters, quoting Joanna Banasiuk, an activist and university lawyer, define abortion as the “butchering of innocent children, hell for women and moral bankruptcy for men”.
Denying women a right to abortion constitutes a violation of women’s fundamental reproductive rights. The Polish government’s abortion legislation not only denies women their rights but is also putting the lives of women are risk.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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