On September 23d, the Polish lower house of Parliament, the Sejm, rejected a citizen project bill intended to amend and liberalize national abortion laws. Instead, Polish MPs voted in favour of a prohibitive stance on abortion, whereas under no circumstance, irregardless of conditions of the fetus, life threatening situation to the mother or pregnancy as a result of rape, could Polish women seek an abortion. The motion, passed mostly by votes of the ruling party Law and Justice (PiS), has triggered major anti-government demonstrations in Warsaw, in which protest has attracted more than 100 thousand followers amassed in front of the legislature.
This controversial new bill has been met with heavy opposition from the Polish people. Prior to the Friday vote, the hashtag #czarnyprotest (#blackprotest) went viral on social media (with over 7 million entries by Friday Sept. 23rd). A predominantly young demographic was well represented as protestors dressed in black and posted black and white pictures of themselves to show discontent. Furthermore, the law has received international condemnation, as human rights and feminist organizations alike have criticized and voiced concern for the state of human rights in Poland.
Currently Poland is one of a few countries in Europe that have strict regulations on abortion. Current laws allow early termination of pregnancy up to 12th week, and only when pregnancy is life threatening to the mother, is a result of rape or a risks serious medical conditions that would heavily impact the future life of the potential child in question. These current laws are a result of a compromise made 29 years ago between the old communist-regime and a church-lead democratic opposition force. This contrasts to the old view on abortion in communist Poland, which allowed for the procedure to occur under any circumstances and was treated as a standard medical procedure. By rejecting further liberalization of abortion laws, and counteracting with even more restrictive legislation, this old compromise made at the dusk of the Cold War looks to be slowly falling apart.
The consequences of the quarter century shift between legalized abortion rights and the more conservative recent legislation is the contemporary emergence of a wide-spread phenomenon of abortion tourism among Polish women. Because of the current state of affairs in the country, women travel to surrounding Germany, Sweden, Czech Republic or Ukraine to perform abortions. If current trends are to continue, and abortion rights in Poland are further constricted, we will on see an increase of this phenomena and more Polish women will be forced to travel abroad to terminate their unwanted pregnancies. Another issue remains unaddressed is widely spread medical underground in Poland ( especially big cities), where women pay money equal to the country’s avg. monthly income ( 500-600 euros or more) in order to terminate a pregnancy. The procedures are done in very poor and unsterile conditions, only endangering the lives of Polish women and possibly exacerbating their conditions. Sadly these issues fall on deaf ears of Polish law-makers, who’s only concern seems to be with pushing their own agenda despite the cries and protests of the people.
It is estimated that between between 80,000 and 150,000 Polish women get an abortion annually, some illegally in Poland and others in neighboring countries where the procedure is allowed. Further tightening the law and criminalizing it will not only increase the number of medical procedures done illegally, but will burden an already overloaded Polish judicial and penal system with new cases of intentional manslaughter. Furthermore, many doctors who perform these abortions will lose their licenses and will be criminalized to the detriment of Polish society.
Another issue this law may raise between that goes off legal and political landscapes is the issue of a stigma. In recent years, Polish society, like many in Eastern-Central Europe, has become increasingly more conservative. It is likely, that if the law fully passes despite massive protests, women who seek an abortion will face strong ostracism from conservative side of society. This can come with great consequences as a large majority of Polish society (87%), considers itself Roman Catholic, and the effects of public ostracism has the potential to be catastrophic. It is for these reasons that securing safe and confidential abortions for women in Poland is imperative to protecting their individual rights and ensuring the overall public health of Polish society is maintained.