Poland: Thousands of black-clad women protest against proposed near-total abortion ban Print E-mail
~ Tuesday October 4, 2016, page A7

Protesters in Poland Rally Against Proposal for Total Abortion Ban

By JOANNA BERENDTOCT.
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Video "Voices from the Abortion-Bill Protest" by NATALIA V. OSIPOVA

A proposal to ban abortions in Poland, even in cases of rape and when a woman’s life is in danger, sparked so-called Black Monday rallies in several European cities.
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WARSAW ­ Despite pouring rain and a chill in the air, Anna Pietruszka-Drozdz, together with as many as 24,000 other Polish women and men, skipped work on Monday and instead came to Castle Square in Warsaw, dressed in black, to protest a sweeping new anti-abortion bill.

“A complete and total abortion ban? This is beyond my wildest nightmares,” said Ms. Pietruszka-Drozdz, 37, a mother of two. “Women don’t have abortions because they are promiscuous and it’s convenient. They do it because they need to, and it’s often the most traumatic decision ever.”

On Black Monday, as it was called, huge protests against the new legislation swept through 90 Polish cities. The Warsaw mayor’s office said 24,000 Poles took to the streets of the capital, waving black flags to draw international attention to the proposed restrictions. On the event’s Facebook page, organizers said the protest drew up to 116,000 participants nationwide.

Poland’s existing abortion law is already one of the most restrictive in Europe. Abortion is permitted in only three cases: a severe fetal anomaly, a threat to the mother’s health and life, or a pregnancy from rape or sexual abuse.

Under the proposed legislation, written by an organization called Stop Abortion, all abortions would be criminalized. Women, doctors and anyone who assisted with the procedure could face up to five years in prison.

“This is a barbarian proposal that will move Poland back to medieval times,” Barbara Nowacka, the leader of a liberal initiative, Save Women, said in a telephone interview. “The worst thing is that this barbarity finds approval in the eyes of those in power.”

Black Monday was the high point of protests that began two weeks ago. On social media, tens of thousands of Poles have posted pictures of themselves wearing black and staging demonstrations.

Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski dismissed the protesters, saying, “Let them have their fun.”

“There is no such problem as a threat to women’s rights,” he said in an interview with a private radio station, RMF-FM. “If someone thinks that there are no greater concerns in Poland at the moment, let them be.”

The protests have won the approval of numerous Polish employers, including restaurant owners, museum and gallery directors, the deans of several universities and mayors of a couple of large cities, all of whom allowed their female workers to take a day off.

The protest idea was inspired by the story of Icelandic women who paralyzed their country in 1975 by not going to work, and skipping housework and child-rearing tasks, to protest unfair employment practices and wage discrepancies. The women who participated in those protests sent the women in Poland a video message of solidarity, encouraging them to stand up for themselves and telling them in Polish, “Jestesmy z wami” (“we are with you”). On Facebook, Kenyan women also sent a message of solidarity.

The solidarity protests were also staged in other European cities, including Berlin, Brussels, London, Paris and Barcelona, Spain.

Poland introduced a restrictive abortion law, known as the “abortion compromise” and championed by the Roman Catholic Church, in 1993 after the collapse of Communism.

The church, which continues to be a powerful influence in this predominantly Catholic country, is often accused of exerting pressure on politicians. It actively supports the proposed legislation, though church leaders have said they oppose punishing women.

According to official figures, around 1,000 legal abortions are performed in Poland every year. Estimates of the number of illegal terminations vary widely, from 10,000 to 120,000, from anti-abortion and abortion rights groups.

“The abortion compromise was supposed to curb the number of illegal terminations and increase the number of births in Poland,” Ms. Nowacka said. “It has failed miserably on both accounts. We need a new law that actually corresponds with reality.”

Critics of the legislation, which is supported by senior members of the right-wing government, argue that if the bill is passed, doctors will stop performing invasive procedures on pregnant women, even to correct a fetal defect, unless the woman’s life is directly threatened. That is the only exception under which doctors could undertake a procedure and avoid prosecution if it ended in a miscarriage.

Dr. Romuald Debski, the head of gynecology and obstetrics at Bielanski Hospital in Warsaw, said every invasive procedure carries a minor risk of miscarriage.

“This would be the end of prenatal diagnostics,” Dr. Debski said in an interview. “I couldn’t do basic prenatal tests, like the amniotic fluid test that allows me to determine whether I’m dealing with certain genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome. Should the procedure go wrong, I could end up in jail. I won’t risk that.”

Tomasz Latos, a member of the governing Law and Justice party and head of the Health Committee in the Polish Sejm, or lower house of Parliament, said viewing the legislation as a threat to prenatal diagnostics was “either an act of ill will or incompetence.”

“No one is saying that this bill will be even passed in the end,” he said. “Our senators are preparing a separate bill.”

Katarzyna Plutowska, 44, and Malgorzata Zyra, 39, took a day off from their accounting jobs to join a demonstration held near the Palace of Science and Culture in Warsaw.

“Due to the protest, our entire office is closed today,” Ms. Plutowska said. “You cannot change the world from your couch, you know.”
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 Monday October 3, 2016

Polish women strike against abortion ban

AFP
 
Warsaw: Thousands of black-clad women protested across Poland today against a proposed near-total abortion ban in the devoutly Catholic country, where the law is already among the most restrictive in Europe.

Pro-choice activists used social media to launch the country-wide "Women strike" protest, urging women to stay away from work and school to attend street protests.

Around 2,000 people rallied outside the Warsaw headquarters of the governing rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party, forming a "wall of fury" human chain, an AFP journalist saw.

PiS lawmakers in late September pushed ahead with a controversial bill that would allow terminations only if the mother's life is at risk and increase the maximum jail term for practitioners from two years to five.

The citizen's initiative tabled in parliament by the Stop Abortion coalition would also make women who have terminations liable to prison terms, though judges could waive punishment in their case.

Poland's influential Catholic Church gave the initiative its seal of approval earlier this year, though its bishops have since opposed jailing women.


"I don't like what the Polish government is doing to women," protester Jolanta Bienicka told AFP.

"Unfortunately, we're going in the direction of countries like Afghanistan and the worst countries in the world."

Protester Katazyna Goluch, a 17-year-old high school student, told AFP that "no one has the right to decide what I am supposed to do with my uterus".

"If this law comes into effect and I'm raped and I get pregnant, I'll have to give birth. It's the same thing if the foetus is deformed, so we just have to say no."

Passed in 1993, the current law bans all terminations unless there was rape or incest, the pregnancy poses a health risk to the mother or the foetus is severely deformed.

A poll published this week by the Newsweek Polska magazine showed that 74 per cent of Poles want to keep the existing law.

The European Parliament is expected to debate women's rights in Poland on Wednesday.