The Proposed Abortion Law in Poland: The Controversies

The Proposed Abortion Law in Poland: The Controversies


Last Monday, thousands took to the streets of Warsaw, Poland’s capital city, to protest against a proposed change to the law, regarding the termination of pregnancies. There were several protests in other cities across Poland and a demonstration outside of the Polish Embassy in London, opposing the draft law. The protest known as ‘Black Monday’, saw around 100 000 people, mainly women, refusing to go to work, school or carry out domestic tasks. They dressed in black as a sign of mourning their reproductive rights. Many people throughout the world posted photos of themselves on social media holding up signs to show solidarity with polish women and supported them with their campaign. Poland already has one of Europe’s most restrictive laws regarding abortion, with it being banned in almost every case, with the following three exceptions:

1.    Where the woman’s life is in danger.

2.    Where there is a significant risk of serious/irreversible damage to the foetus.

3.    Where the woman has become pregnant as the result of a rape or incest.

The proposed new law would disregard all of the above cases, with the only exception being to save the woman’s life.  Health professionals who carry out illegal abortions would be subjected to jail time, and the mother could expect imprisonment for up to five years. The bill which came from an anti-abortion initiative group, which gathered 450 000 signatures, was not originally supported by the Catholic Church, but bishops later said that they could not back a law which could imprison women who have a termination.

Krystyna Kacpura, director of the Federation of Women and Family Planning, argues that under the current law, which was legislated in 1993, it is difficult for women to gain access to legal abortions, even if they fall into one of the three exempt categories. She points out that in the southern region of Podkarpackie, it is impossible to get an abortion as all hospitals and doctors refuse to carry them out, leading to many women seeking abortion illegally. Currently, it is estimated that anywhere between 10 000 and 150 000 abortions are performed illegally in Poland every year, compared to around 1000 legal terminations.

Gynaecologists warned that as abortions and miscarriages have indistinguishable symptoms, women who lose their babies may be subject to investigations. Furthermore, health professionals have stated that they would be wary of treating pregnant women for serious conditions, in fear of going to prison if the baby dies.  Professor Romuald Debski admitted that he would be unable to treat a woman who was 32 weeks pregnant with pre-eclampsia, saying that he would have to “let her and her child die” as she could go to prison, if he performs a caesarean and the child dies as a result of the procedure.

However, the committee of justice and human rights advised the Polish government to vote against the new bill. Following this advice, the parliament unanimously threw out the proposed bill, with 352 votes to 58.  The former Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz, believes that this was due to the unexpected masses of people protesting against the draft law. Kopacz told reporters that the current ruling party, Law and Justice, had “backtracked because it was scared by all the women who hit the streets in protest”. It is a relief that the Polish government voted against this oppressive new law, and could be a catalyst for change in the opposite direction, perhaps even allowing women to make their own decisions about their own bodies.