On March 23, 2018, tens of thousands of Poles dressed in black protested across the country against a bill by the ruling conservative Law and Justice Party and the Catholic Church to ban most abortions.
A Warsaw city spokesman said about 55,000 people took part in the protest in the capital, the largest one in the country. Police gave a lower estimate at 20,000. Thousands of people participated in other major cities.
Several thousand protesters gathered near the parliament building in Warsaw, with banners reading: “Woman is a Human Being Not an Incubator” and “We Are Going after Law and Justice”. The protesters chanted “freedom of choice instead of terror”.
Malgorzata Judyta Pajak, 58, a psychologist who joined the “Black Friday” protest in Warsaw, fumed: “I am against treating woman as an inferior type of human being. I support women’s rights to decide about their bodies and their lives.”
The “Stop Abortion” draft bill would remove the main legal recourse Polish women have for getting an abortion in a country that already has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the European Union.
Under current rules, abortion is allowed in three circumstances:
- Danger to the mother’s health.
- Rape or incest.
- When prenatal tests show serious, irreversible damage to the baby.
The bill, already approved for further debate by the lower chamber of parliament in January and by a parliamentary committee earlier this week, would remove the third category, which currently covers more than 90% of legal abortions.
A survey conducted by IBRiS pollster in January showed that 70% of Poles are against the proposed restriction.
A group of U.N. human rights experts called on parliament to reject the bill, saying it risked causing serious damage to women’s health. Nils Muiznieks of the Council of Europe human rights group said, “Preventing women from accessing safe and legal abortion care jeopardizes their human rights”.
It is the second bid by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party to tighten abortion rules. In 2016, after about 100,000 people joined protests and support for PiS declined, the party rejected a bill that would have imposed a near-total ban. PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said his party would strive to amend laws to make sure that even severely deformed fetuses are born so they could be “baptized, buried, and be given a name”.
Polish Catholic bishops called in March on lawmakers to show “unconditional respect for every human being in all moments of its existence”. The PiS party has close ties to the Catholic Church and depends on its support in elections.