On Thursday, October 6th, Poland’s parliament rejected an abortion bill that would have only allowed abortion in cases involving risk to the mother’s life, and that additionally would have increased the maximum jail time for illegal abortions from two to five years. After mass protest on October 3rd, the right wing majority party, Law and Justice (PiS), joined with liberal parliamentarians in the lower house to reject the bill 352 to 58 with 18 abstentions.
Rejection of the additional restrictions to abortion access was demonstrated by the mass protests of approximately 100,000 women dressed in black in rallies all across Poland. These women were joined by solidarity protests in Paris, Berlin, and London. These protests, in addition to pressure from the EU, led to PiS’s withdraw of support from the bill. The bill was written by an independent anti-abortion campaign group, known as Ordo Iuris, which, in petition for the bill to be considered, had collected 450,000 signatures in a nation of 38 million.
Poland is a largely Catholic nation, and already has some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe. Presently, abortions are permitted in cases of rape, incest, danger to life of the mother, or permanent disability or deformity of the fetus. It is estimated that approximately 2,000 of these abortions are performed every year, with possibly 10,000 performed illegally or abroad. The current law is widely supported over the new proposal, with 74 percent of people indicating support in a poll by Newsweek Polska. It is likely that PiS withdrew their support to avoid losing popularity.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, PiS’s party leader stated, “observing social developments, we have come to a conclusion that this legislation will have an opposite effect to the one that was intended. This is not the right way to proceed.”
The PiS has now taken the stance that they object the bill, at least in part, because it called for imprisoning women who received abortions. Ordo Iruis leader Joanna Banasiuk said, however, Parliament still dropped the bill.
The abortion bill had also initially had the support of the Catholic Church in Poland; however, bishops had spoken out against the idea of jailing women for abortions. A bill to limit in-vitro fertilization was also dropped.
Historically, Poland’s abortion stance has trended as conservative compared to much of the EU. In 1989, a similar bill, that would have also only allowed abortions in cases of the mother’s life being in danger, was rejected. The law at that time, established in 1956, allowed abortions in cases of danger to a woman’s life, rape, and difficult life conditions. The current law was established in 1993.
Interestingly, even among the opponents of the new bill, there is little call for further legalization. Pro-choice supporters foresee a long road ahead to their goals, a rally participant stated after the October 6th vote. The struggle between pro-life and pro-choice continues as PiS leaders are set to return to the drawing board in their goal to tighten the country’s anti-abortion laws.