On Saturday, Oct. 1, some one-hundred protesters dressed in black gathered on Prague’s Paláckého Square to show their support for Polish women, who have taken to the streets in the past week to oppose a planned anti-abortion law. This comes after the Polish Parliament voted in favor of the new bill on Sept. 22.
Czarny Protest (the Black Protest), an idea started by the opposing “Razem” party, has been raging both on social media and on the streets of many Polish cities, along with several events organized abroad in solidarity with the initiative. Wielding transparents with slogans such as “My body, my decision,” the protesters are opposing a bill that would outlaw all pregnancy terminations with the exception of those directly threatening a woman’s life.
Poland’s current abortion law, adopted in 1993, is already among the strictest ones in Europe; the practice is illegal, unless the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, poses a risk to the mother’s health, or the fetus is severely damaged. Under this law, less than 2,000 legal abortions per year are performed in Poland, although it is estimated that the number of illegal and abroad procedures circulates around 100,000-150,000.
“I decided I have to do something, because when I opened the news from Poland I got furious,” said Dominika Szymańska, the organizer of the protest in Prague. She did so in cooperation with several Czech women’s organizations, such as Pirátská strana and Oranžový klub ČSSD.
This new measure, proposed by a conservative organisation Ordo Iuris and backed by the Catholic church, the Law and Justice (PiS) ruling party and numerous pro-life movements, would make both mothers and doctors liable to prison terms of up to 5 years for terminating pregnancies. In theory, the law is aimed at preventing women from choosing abortion over the responsibility of raising a child and at protecting unborn life. The protesters argue, however, that in practice its consequences would be far graver.
Many are fearful that the law may cause women who miscarried to fall under suspicion, stop doctors from conducting standard prenatal procedures for fear of prosecution and force rape and incest victims to give birth to their oppressors’ children. Moreover, it would create space for dangerous, black market abortions to occur more frequently. That is illustrated in the symbol of the protests, a clothes hanger, feared to come back as the tool for self-abortion for desperate women who are unable to undergo a safe, legal procedure.
“This ban will not affect the politicians debating their ideologies from the safety of their desks, but women who often find themselves in tragic situations,” said Barbora, a Czech participant of the protest, explaining why she decided to support it. “It is unacceptable that the decisions about their own bodies would be taken away from them.”
Monika, another participant and a Polish expat in Prague, said she was very pleased to see the solidarity of other foreigners during the event. “We have people from Estonia, Ukraine, and many other countries supporting our cause. It is just sad that we still have to fight for our basic rights in the 21 century, in a developed country such as Poland.”
The bill was sent to committee by the Parliament largely dominated by PiS, whose attempts at radically changing Polish internal and external politics have stirred much controversy since they won the elections in October 2015. The party is strongly in favor of the new ban, despite the fact that 74 percent of the citizens want the existing legislation to remain, according to a poll by Newsweek Polska.
After a week of protests, over two million Polish women also joined a general strike on Monday, Oct. 3, inspired by the protests of Icelandic women in 1975. They took a day off from work and domestic activities and gathered to express their dissatisfaction. Such protests are expected to continue until the Polish government recognizes the need for compromise.
UPTADE: As of Wednesday, Oct. 5, Jarosław Gowin, the minister of science and higher education announced that the government will not support the total abortion ban after all. He claims the mass protests of women and international pressure have caused the leadership to rethink the situation and “taught us humility.” The government will still most probably attempt to alter the existing abortion legislation, but it seems this may happen in a less radical manner.
Photos by Julia Nowak