Poland abortion: Parliament rejects abortion ban after women stage all-out strike

Some 100,000 women dressed in black demonstrated throughout Poland against plans 

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Polish lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to reject draft legislation that would introduce a near-total ban on abortion, following mass protests in over 60 cities across the country.

Some 100,000 women dressed in black staged nationwide demonstrations in Poland on Monday against plans to tighten the country's already restrictive abortion rules, including banning the procedure even in cases of rape, with prison terms for women ending a pregnancy. 

The hastily arranged vote presents the first major domestic setback for the ruling conservatives, of which many members initially backed the proposal. 

Two weeks ago a majority of lawmakers voted to consider the proposal, sending it to a commission for further study.

But the party backed away from it under massive social pressure, and lawmakers voted against it 352-58 on Thursday, with 18 absentations. 

Leader of the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party Jaroslaw Kaczynski told parliament that the party "would always support protecting the right to life" before the vote took place. But added that supporters of the ban were "not going about it [protecting the right to life] in the best way."

The mostly Catholic nation already has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, with abortion only allowed in rare cases – rape or incest, when the mother's life is in danger or the foetus is badly damaged. 

Fewer than 2,000 legal abortions take place in Poland annually, which has a population of 38 million. However, women’s groups estimate a further 100,000 to 150,000 procedures are performed illegally or abroad.  The proposal for further tightening the law emerged from a citizen’s initiative that garnered some 450,000 signatures and was supported by the Roman Catholic Church but was hugely unpopular with many Poles.

Public anger swells as Poland proposes to ban abortions

Dubbed “Black Monday”, women boycotted work and dressed in black across Poland for the day. In Warsaw, 30,000 people turned out to protest against the proposed law change. They held signs with messages “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries” and “I wish I could abort my government” as they chanted outside government offices.

Minister Jaroslaw Gowin said the demonstrations by thousands of women had “caused us to think and taught us humility”. The remarks made by the Science and higher education minister on Wednesday hinted that Poland’s right-wing leadership would not proceed with the proposal. Liberal opposition MP and former prime minister Ewa Kopacz said "the PiS backtracked on the ban because it was scared by all the women who hit the streets in protest."

Former sports minister Joanna Mucha said PiS lawmakers "panicked" after Monday's protests. "Polish women won't allow you to drive them to the slaughterhouse like sheep," she warned during the parliamentary debate.

 

The European Parliament debated the proposal on Wednesday. 

Polish MEP Barbara Kudrycka claimed PiS lawmakers had "hearts of stone", adding: "Women aren't merchandise you can use to pay off your campaign promises."

Additional reporting by agencies

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