Poland: Women Successfully Defeat Total Abortion Ban

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Protesters in Poland demonstrate against another proposed change in the nation's abortion law in April, 2016. Poland's anti-abortion laws are among the most restrictive in the European Union.

Poland’s hyper-conservative government – led by the reactionary Law and Justice party – has stood down from an attempt to enact a total abortion ban on the country. The governing party sought to outlaw abortions even in cases of rape, incest, and when the mother’s life is at risk, amounting to a totalitarian overreach on women’s rights by a democratic nation unparalleled in recent memory.

The government’s minister of science and higher education, Jarosław Gowin, admitted the administration’s change of mind in a surprisingly candid manner, commenting that the thousands of women and allies that took to the streets “caused us to think and taught us humility.”

On Monday, October 3, an estimated 30,000 people gathered in Warsaw’s Castle Square in protest of the regressive measure, many donning black a hoisting signs decrying the legislation. Just one sign out of many read “We’re not incubators to regulate.” Many women went on strike, walking out of their workplaces to demonstrate against the law. Millions of protesters were expected throughout the country. 

In addition to nearly banning abortion outright, the law would have expanded the penalty for women who seek unlawful abortions within Poland from two years in prison to five. Weirdly, the absurd law enjoys very low popularity among the Polish population, with only 14% expressing support. The Law and Justice Party was primarily driven by a desire to shore up support among its conservative base, as well as with the Catholic Church of Poland, with which the party maintains a close alliance.

In striking similarity to Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment that derailed his congressional ambitions in the United States, one Polish priest who supported the total abortion ban responded to concerns over the legislation by arguing that during rape “the stress is so strong that fertilization is less likely to occur.”

The fact remains that Poland has among the most restrictive abortion laws in the EU. Currently, the procedure is prohibited in all cases except for rape and incest, barring women from this basic human right. This month, the EU is set to open a debate on the state of Polish women, which will likely involve discussion of other regressive tendencies of Poland’s Law and Justice party. Upon ascending to power, for example, the party eliminated state funding for in-vitro fertilization.

Ireland also has highly restrictive abortion laws. Such prohibition leads to high numbers of dangerous illegal abortions rather than stopping them altogether. Many other women simply travel to EU countries more amenable to women’s rights, such as Germany, though depending on economic resources such options are not available for everyone.

Ultimately, such laws only threaten women’s welfare, and need to be challenged in the push for full gender equality across the globe.

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