Polish parliament debates strictest abortion law in the EU

Black is the colour of their protest, whether on the street, in the office or in front of parliament in Warsaw, where Polish deputies are currently debating controversial measures to tighten the legislation on abortion.

"If they don't want to listen to us, then they will have to look at us," say members of the left-wing Razem party, who have used social media to call for a "Czarny Protest" (Black Protest).

Women and men from all over the world have joined the protest, posting photographs of themselves dressed in black on the different sites.

"I can't believe that we are having to fight about being able to take decisions about our own bodies," one woman tweeted in reference to draft legislation put forward by the "Stop Aborcji" (Stop Abortions) initiative.

The aim is to outlaw pregnancy terminations altogether, even though Poland already has some of the strictest regulations in Europe.

"If this initiative is passed, we will have one of the most restrictive laws in the world," Krystyna Kacpura, director of the Warsaw-based Association of Women's Rights and Family Planning, told dpa.

Staunchly Catholic Poland currently allows abortion only when the woman concerned has been raped, her life is endangered or the foetus is severely handicapped.

If the advocates of a ban succeed, Polish women will have to give birth in even these cases. "Or they abort and go to jail," Kacpura says.

Stop Aborcji is aiming at jail terms of up to five years. The movement garnered so much support that its proposed measure is being debated by deputies in the Sejm, the Polish lower house.

The draft law provides for the authorities to investigate women in the event of a miscarriage. "The law is a nightmare for women," Kacpura says.

According to official figures, up to 1,000 pregnancies are aborted in Poland every year, although women's rights activists believe the true figure could be 150 times that.

A ban will change little in that respect. "Many Polish women already prefer to have abortions done abroad," Kacpura says, mentioning Germany, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands as frequent destinations.

"Women feel they are better cared for there, and it's cheaper," the activist says.

According to Kacpura the practice is widespread, with many clinics in these countries offering their services in Polish.

Nevertheless, many Polish women are unable to afford this solution, and a complete abortion ban could lead to increased health risk for many living in poorer rural areas.

"If these poor women see no alternative, they will resort to household remedies," Kacpura says.

Stop Aborcji activists insist that it is precisely the wellbeing of women that their campaign is aimed at. "Pregnancy terminations are hell for women," says Karolina Pawlowska, who is backing the ban with photographs of lifeless embryos.

"They are harmful to the psyche and may also have physical consequences for the woman," Pawlowska says. Opponents see rather an attempt to buttress Polish traditions and the classical family model.

Even the powerful Catholic Church has drawn back from unequivocal support. The bishops have clearly distanced themselves from imposing jail sentences on women undergoing abortions.

The radicalism could also prove too much for the deputies. While members of the ruling nationalist conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party back the ban, Kacpura remains hopeful. "International protest is now too loud," she says.

And there is another initiative before the Sejm, this one aimed at liberalizing the abortion law, which is being promoted by the "Ratujmy Kobiety" (Save the women) campaign.

"We will fight on," Kacpura says.

Last update: Fri, 23/09/2016 - 17:18

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