By JULIA THOMAS —
Thousands of Polish citizens dressed in black and demonstrated across the country Oct. 3 in response to parliament’s proposed anti-abortion law to make all terminations essentially illegal, ultimately swaying legislators to vote against the ban three days later.
The vote came as a striking reversal from previous government support for tighter abortion laws in Poland, a majority Catholic country known for having some of the strictest abortion policies in the European Union.
“We have a conservative government,” Katarzyna Krzywicka, a Polish national currently living in the Netherlands, said in an interview with this reporter. “This protest is not only a manifestation of (the) importance of women’s rights but also just an expression of dissatisfaction with the current government.”
The law would have taken away all exceptional circumstances granted for abortions, with exceptions only in cases of incest, rape, seriously damaged fetuses or severe risk to the mother’s life, and require prison terms for women and doctors who assisted in abortions.
“I will fight for liberal abortion law, and I will educate my friends who think that our rights in Poland are enough,” a 34-year-old protester named Agata told The Guardian newspaper. “They weren’t and never will be.”
Women and men donned black clothing and left work, school and other duties to protest in rainy conditions in Poland. They were joined by other demonstrations in solidarity across the European Union.
Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski initially mocked the demonstrations, saying, “Let them play,” but the government changed its position on the protests in the three days that followed.
The EU debated the bill in Strasbourg, France Oct. 5, concluding that it could not intervene but had concerns about the bill that the ruling right wing Law and Justice Party labeled as a violation of national sovereignty.
Polish government officials said throughout the debate that the changes proposed in the new bill were pushed by anti-abortion groups, leading to outrage and what these groups considered betrayal.
Though leaders of the Law and Justice Party were overwhelmingly in favor of the bill in preliminary voting last month, 352 of the 428 members of Poland’s lower house of Parliament voted against the legislation.
The “black Monday” protests “gave us food for thought and taught us humility,” Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin was reported to have told Polish media.
A petition for an alternative law by the Stop Abortion Coalition obtained over 100,000 signatures, in addition to support from Polish politicians and elements of the Catholic Church. Though the government approved the intent behind the draft, Law and Justice Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said that they opposed this particular petition.
“Observing the social developments, we have come to a conclusion that this legislation will have an opposite effect to the one that was intended,” Kaczynski was quoted as saying in The New York Times. “This is not the right way to proceed.”
Law and Justice Party leaders said that they will maintain the current law but may reconsider adjusting the abortion policy in the future, according to The New York Times.
The protests, led by pro-choice activists and the left wing Together party, represented a moment of victory for opposition politics but also indicates that “Poland is still very far from western Europe,” Krzywicka said in an email interview.
“Kaczynski caved from the wrath of thousands of women,” said Marcelina Zawisza, from the left-wing Together Party that coordinated the street protests, on her Facebook page. “This is the first victorious battle in our fight for our dignity and rights. But the war is not over yet.”
(Written by Julia Thomas; edited by Terril Yue Jones, Oct. 11, 2016)