Poland’s abortion laws: activists blame grip of ‘hardline’ church

Campaigners believe Catholic priests are exerting political leverage to further restrict women’s reproductive rights

Carmen Fishwick

Thursday 27 October 2016 07.30 BST

“It’s a strange thing to say about a country in the middle of Europe, in the 21st century, but this is how it works – nearly all politicians here are afraid of the Catholic church,” said Anna Leszczyńska, a women’s rights activist.

Thousands of campaigners marched through Poland’s largest cities on Sunday and Monday to protest against the government’s proposals to further restrict abortion laws in the country.

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Source: The Guardian

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A discussion with the Polish Greens on abortion and women’s rights

Oct 25, 2016

Recently, Eliana Capretti from the European Green Party spoke to the leader of the Polish greens, Malgorzata Tracz, about the Black Protest and the continuing struggle for abortion rights in Poland.

The Greens are one of the main members of the “Ratujmy Kobiety” (rescue women) committee that gathered over 215,000 signatures for the liberalisation of the abortion law. When the Polish Parliament decided to proceed with the “Stop abortion” project and reject the liberalisation project “Ratujmy Kobiety”, ‘black protests’ started in Poland. This was the first time in modern Polish history that hundreds of thousands of Poles protested on the streets to protect women’s rights. The Greens took part in the main protests and demonstrations. Right now they continue fighting for the liberalisation of an abortion law and are co-organising the second “Polish women on strike” protest (second black Monday). This interview was originally published on the website of the European Greens.

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Source: Green European Journal

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Polish women protest again as ruling party heats up abortion row

Mon Oct 24, 2016 | 1:20pm EDT
By Marcin Goettig | WARSAW - Reuters

Hundreds of women marched again in Polish cities on Monday to oppose proposals for tight restrictions on abortion after earlier protests effectively scuttled a near-total ban on terminating pregnancies.

They reacted to comments by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the conservative ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, that even severely deformed fetuses should not be aborted so they could be baptized and properly buried.

Television reports showed hundreds of women dressed in black protesting on the streets of major Polish cities including Katowice, Wroclaw, Poznan, Gdansk, Warsaw and Bialystok.

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Source: Reuters

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Women in South Korea launch Polish-inspired pro-choice campaign to fully legalise abortion

Abortion in South Korea is technically illegal, although as many as 200,000 are performed annually.

By Sofia Lotto Persio
October 24, 2016 14:11 BST

South Korean pro-choice activists are demanding the full legalisation of abortion in the country.

Inspired by the Black Monday protests in Poland, a coalition of groups including Womad and Women's online community union have started working together on a campaign calling for people to post pictures of themselves wearing black on social media and participating in Sunday gatherings in Seoul.

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Source: IBTimes

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Protesters gather in Warsaw to oppose further bid to tighten abortion law

Demonstrators rally against new proposal to outlaw abortions in cases where foetus is unviable or suffers abnormalities

Associated Press
Sunday 23 October 2016

Hundreds of protesters dressed in black have taken to the streets of Warsaw for the latest demonstration against efforts by the nation’s conservative leaders to tighten Poland’s already restrictive abortion law.

A large group gathered on Sunday outside the parliament building in Warsaw, chanting: “We have had enough!” Polish media reported similar protests in cities and towns across the country.

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Source: The Guardian

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The battle over abortion rights in Poland is not over

Protesters take to the streets on ‘Black Monday’ in Warsaw on October 3. Rafal Guz/EPA

October 7, 2016 10.00am EDT, The Conversation

After a week during which mass street protests erupted in Poland against a proposed new law banning abortions, on October 6 politicians backtracked on the plans and the parliament voted to reject the law. But, despite the victory for pro-choice campaigners, Poland is still left with some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe – and further restrictions have been proposed.

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 law was briefly relaxed in 1996 to allow for abortions on social grounds until the 12th week of pregnancy. But that decision was ruled unconstitutional a year later and the country reverted to previous legislation. The Federation for Women and Family Planning has estimated that around 150,000 illegal abortions are carried out each year, while legal abortions number only around 1,000 per annum.

Despite this, the “Stop Abortion” coalition and conservative Christian think-tank Ordo Iuris, backed by Roman Catholic Bishops, collected more than 400,000 signatures to submit a bill to the Polish parliament that would ban abortion completely. This included criminalising miscarriage in “suspicious” circumstances – both for the pregnant woman and anybody assisting her – and in effect preventing pre-natal tests altogether. Meanwhile, a liberalisation bill was tabled by the “Save Women” pro-choice coalition, that would change the law to allow abortions until the 12th week of pregnancy.

In late September, the Polish parliament rejected the liberalisation bill and passed the restrictive abortion bill to its Justice and Human Rights Committee for further consideration. Although the bill was not sponsored by the conservative, Church-affiliated ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, every single one of its deputies voted in favour.

Anger mounts

What was not anticipated was the scale of resistance and protest and level of anger manifested on “Black Monday” on October 3. In dreadful weather, Polish women across almost 200 town and cities in Poland, 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.

At first, it seemed that the highly visible protests would be dismissed as irrelevant. Anti-government protests organised by the civil movement KOD (Committee for the Defence of Democracy), had attracted ten times the level of support in May, and been ignored by PiS. Poland’s foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, initially trivialised the Black Monday protests as “fun” for women, and an inappropriate way to seek to influence debate.

However, in a sign that PiS was responsive to the scale and ferocity of the protests, prime minister Beata Szydło publicly reprimanded Waszczykowski for his remarks, and sought to distance the government from the bill. This was despite her personal support for it – and the support of the PiS leader, Jarosław Kaczyński. Two days after the protests, science and higher education minister Jarosław Gowin stated that the protests had forced a rethink and taught the government “humility”.

Opinion shift

What PiS had underestimated was the level of anger provoked by the legislation, the capacity of the campaign to mobilise young women and the consequent dramatic shift in public opinion around abortion. Before the protests, around 70% of Poles supported the existing so-called “compromise” law. A recent IPSOS telephone poll of 1,001 people conducted between 28 and 30 September showed the level of support for the status quo had fallen to 47%.

Meanwhile, only 10% support a further restriction of abortion law, with an unparalleled surge of support to almost 40% for abortion to be liberalised to include “difficult circumstances” (on socio-economic grounds) of the pregnant woman. Support for the government also dropped significantly to its lowest levels since last year’s elections and opinion polling also shows that PiS supporters are divided among themselves on the question of abortion.

This dramatic shift led to a volte-face by PiS members, who hurriedly sought to distance themselves from the proposed legislation. The Justice and Human Rights Committee recommended that the legislation be rejected and this was followed by the Polish parliament rejecting the bill outright by 352 votes to 58.

More restrictions on cards

But the question of access to abortion is by no means settled. PiS is working on its own abortion bill, which is likely to propose that so-called “eugenic abortions” – 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.

Meanwhile, another bill supporting a complete ban but with no punishment for the pregnant woman, collected 160,000 signatures and has already been submitted to the Polish parliament by the Polish Federation of Movements for the Defence of Life. It remains to be seen whether this bill will be debated in parliament.

But it seems certain that further restrictions will be proposed – and just as certain that further protests will take place. A further women’s strike has been called for the October 24 across the whole of Poland, with pro-choice protesters determined to maintain the pressure on the government.

Source: The Conversation

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“This victory on abortion has empowered Polish women – we’ll never be the same.” (Krystyna Kacpura, 6 October 2016)

by Safe Abortion, October 7, 2016

Our congratulations to the women of Poland for the brilliant decision to call a national strike on 3 October, in which between 30,000 and 100,000 people, according to different reports, took to the streets to protest the threatened ban on abortion: the government couldn’t ignore you any longer.

According to Maritime First News, state-run radio in Poland reported that on 4 October Prime Minister Beata Szydlo had distanced the government from the bill because of the strike. They quoted her as saying at a news conference : “I want to state very clearly that the PiS [Law and Justice] government is not working on any legislation changing the rules on abortion in Poland.”

Polish Vice Minister, Jarosław Gowin, a devout Catholic, was also quoted by the BBC as saying on 4 October that the nationwide protest on Monday had given the government “food for thought”. He was also reported as saying that he wanted to calm those afraid that abortion could be completely banned in Poland. However, this is how his statement was reported in English: “Abortion will certainly not be banned when the woman is the victim of rape or if her life or health is in danger” and that the protests around the country had “taught [the government] humility”.

He did not mention what would happen with abortion on grounds of fetal abnormality. Whether that was a significant omission is unclear.

On 5 October in the evening, the committee selected by the Polish lower house of parliament to review the bill voted to reject it. On 6 October, the full lower house of parliament was set to vote on whether to push the bill back to the committee, or drop it completely. This was set to take place just before the European Parliament was due to hold a debate on Polish women’s human rights

Barbara Nowacka, an opposition politician who has been active in the “Black Protest” movement to stop further restrictions on abortion in Poland, asked on Twitter: “Wonder what will happen during the vote in Parliament. Did #BlackProtest scare them or is it just a trick before the European Parliament debate?”

What happened was a decision to reject the bill completely. In the most recent news reports in English, which had stopped by the end of the day on 6 October, the BBC reported that the lower house of the parliament had indeed voted the Stop Abortion bill down by a large majority – 352 to 58. In their report after the vote, the Guardian quotes Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of PiS party, as saying to the parliament: “PiS continues to back the protection of life. And it will continue to take action in this respect, but it will be considered action.”

An excellent commentary in response to all these events by Krystyna Kacpura, Executive Director of the Polish Federation of Women & Family Planning, was also published in the Guardian on 6 October, where she said: “This victory on abortion has empowered Polish women – we’ll never be the same.”

Here is a brilliant set of photographs and quotes of women who went on strike on Monday, 3 October 2016.

Photos by Karol Grygoruk, 4 October 2016 in Vice Poland article including the photo above

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Source: International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion

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Polish parliament rejects abortion ban after mass protests

By AFP.
Added 6th October 2016 06:38 PM

Liberal lawmaker and former sports minister Joanna Mucha said PiS lawmakers "panicked" and backtracked on the ban after Monday's massive protests.

Poland's parliament on Thursday rejected an abortion ban after women staged massive nationwide protests in the devoutly Catholic nation, where the law is already among the most restrictive in Europe.

Right-wing and liberal parliamentarians in the 450-member lower house joined forces to reject the controversial bill by 352 votes to 58, with 18 abstentions.

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Source: New Vision Uganda

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Polish women hail victory in abortion standoff and seek more

by Vanessa Gera, The Associated Press

Posted Oct 6, 2016 6:25 am ADT

WARSAW, Poland – Polish women are declaring victory in a dramatic showdown that pitted them against an anti-abortion group and the conservative government this week. Three days after the women donned black, boycotted work and staged giant street protests, lawmakers on Thursday voted overwhelming against a complete ban on abortion — a proposal they had supported just two weeks earlier.

The victory merely maintains the status quo, which is one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, but feminists hope they have gained the momentum to attack that next.

Agnieszka Graff, a prominent feminist commentator, said she and other feminists have struggled in vain for years to reach younger Polish women, and that this was the first time she has seen them mobilized in huge numbers.

“The feeling on the street was revolutionary. Women were angry but they were also elated at seeing how many of us there were. The black clothes created this secret-but-open signal that connected strangers on the street,” Graff said.

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Source: Associated Press / News957

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Polish parliament rejects near-total abortion ban after protests

Thursday, Oct 6, 2016
Reuters
By Pawel Sobczak and Marcin Goettig | WARSAW

Poland's parliament overwhelmingly rejected plans for a near-total ban on abortion on Thursday after mass protests by tens of thousands of women, marking an embarrassing setback for the conservative government and the powerful Catholic Church.

The ruling Law and Justice party (PIS) had originally backed the draft proposals drawn up by an independent anti-abortion campaign group but was badly shaken by Monday's protest rallies across Poland attended by up to 100,000 women dressed in black.

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Source: Reuters

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