Update: The Polish Parliament on October 6 voted 352-58 to scrap the anti-abortion bill that sparked a one-day strike by Polish women.
The ruling Justice and Law party, which had supported the bill “backtracked because it was scared by all the women who hit the streets in protest,” said Ewa Kopacz, a former prime minister and now an MP for the Liberal party to the Guardian.
An estimated 6 million Polish women didn’t show up for work on Monday, October 3.
They were taking part in a national strike to oppose a new abortion law that the country’s parliament is considering.
On what strike organizers called Black Monday, strike supporters wore black to express a day of mourning for those who will face needless deaths if the proposed law is enacted.
One protester interviewed by BBC said that the proposed law amounts to a death sentence if it passes.
“(Supporters of the proposal) want to introduce an anti-abortion law which will mean in many cases, women will be sentenced to death,” she said. “It will take away the sense of security they have, the treatment options available when pregnancy puts their lives or health in danger.”
Poland already has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. The country bans abortion except when the life of the expectant mother is at risk, there is the risk of serious and irreversible damage to the fetus, or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
The proposed law would remove these exemptions. It would also criminalize the act of abortion. Women who seek an abortion could be imprisoned for up to five years, and doctors who are perceived to have helped terminate a fetus would also be punished.
Amnesty International called the proposed law “a dangerous step backward for women and girls in Poland.”
“(The proposed law) will inevitably place women’s health at risk, and put doctors in impossible situations,” writes Anna Błuś for Amnesty International. “With no clear guidelines about how close to death a woman or a girl must be for performing an abortion for medical reasons to be lawful, the onus will be on doctors to delay for as long as possible.”
Dr. Romuald Debski, a gynecologist who works and teaches at a Warsaw hospital explained to the Polish media how the proposed law puts women at risk.
“(Under the proposed law) whoever causes the death of the unborn child is punishable by imprisonment up to three years,” said Debski. “If I have a patient with pre-eclampsia, who is 32 weeks pregnant, I will have to let her and her child die. I have to, because if I perform a caesarean section and the child dies, I may go to prison for three years, because the child was premature.”
To make matters worse, women who have miscarriages would also be investigated.
At the rallies held around the country to support the strike, women held up images of coat hangers, the symbol for underground abortions that resulted in the deaths of many women and girls until abortions were legalized.
Rallies supporting the strike took place in all of Poland’s major cities and in some smaller cities. Thousands attended the rallies.
Even more supported the strike by staying away from work.
The Guardian reports that in Czestochova, the most Catholic city in Poland, the city government reported that 60 percent of its women workers did not report for work on the day of the strike.
The Washington Post reports that the strike’s organizers estimated that 6 million workers stayed away from work on Black Monday to support the strike.
The proposed law has very little support. A recent Ipsos poll found that only 11 percent of those surveyed supported the proposed law.
The proposed law was submitted to Parliament by Ordo Iuris, a legal organization with ties to the Catholic Church, and the Stop Abortions coalition.
The ruling Justice and Law party and the Catholic Church support the proposed law, which the Parliament on September 23 referred to committee for study and further consideration.
Organizers of the strike said that they hope the Black Monday strike will galvanize women to and their supporters to be more assertive in challenging those who use religious zealotry as an excuse to put the lives of women at risk.
“A lot of women and girls in this country have felt that they don’t have any power, that they are not equal, that they don’t have the right to an opinion,” said Magda Staroszczyk, a strike coordinator to the Guardian. “This is a chance for us to be seen, and to be heard.”