Poland is the country where the law on abortion is one of the most severe in Europe. And yet, in recent years, activists have been trying to toughen regulation. These proposals revived an emotional debate.
In only three cases, Polish women can legally terminate a pregnancy: when their life or health is in danger, when the fetus is poorly formed or when there has been rape.
This legislation was put in place after the collapse of the communist regime in the early 1990s. The powerful Catholic Church of Poland, supported by millions of faithful, demanded it as a mark of recognition for its contribution to regime change.
“The law was like a founding act of democracy in Poland after the fall of the socialist or communist regime. We paid the tribute to the Catholic Church, “says Agata Czarnacka, philosopher and pro-choice activist in her thirties.
Thus, almost overnight, Polish women lost the right to abortion on demand, as it had been for years.
The majority of Polish citizens seemed to agree with what has been called the “abortive compromise”, a ban with only three exceptions.
But, of course, women continued to have an illegal abortion, abroad or by buying abortion pills in secret.
“It is estimated that in Poland there are around 150,000 abortions a year,” says Dr. Natalia Jakacka, a young doctor and pro-choice activist, who admits to prescribing the “morning after pill” free of charge to any woman who asks her to do so. .
She did not want to say if she also practices illegal abortions. Not surprising. She may end up in the courts. On the other hand, she says that even abortions allowed by law are increasingly difficult to obtain in Poland.
“There are hospitals in Poland where all doctors invoke the so-called” conscience clause “, guaranteed by law, which allows them to refuse any abortion, even legal, if they do not agree for religious or moral reasons, “she indignantly.
Moreover, whole regions in Poland have no access to abortion, even in case of rape or malformation of the fetus, because no doctor wants to do so.
Reopen a heartbreaking debate
In recent years, especially since the right-wing nationalist right and justice party has taken power, things have gone even further. A new draft law was presented to the Polish Parliament in 2016 by a private anti-abortion institution, Ordo iuris.
This project proposed to further tighten abortion legislation , prohibiting it in all circumstances, except when the life of the mother is in danger. It provided for heavy prison sentences not only for doctors but also for women who had abortions.
This time, the women and men who supported them in large numbers came out on the streets in the hundreds of thousands.
On October 3, 2016, in most large and small cities across the country, protesters, dressed in black in protest, stormed the streets.
Politicians have been forced to back down. Even though Law and Justice has a comfortable majority in Parliament and has said it is in favor of tightening the law on abortion, it was hard for them to alienate all those women who opposed it.
But the debate did not end after this decline.
New attempts to change the law
A few months ago, almost simultaneously, two other private bills were introduced in Parliament.
One, written by pro-choice activists, including Agata Czarnacka, advocated free access to abortion.
The other, presented by a mother of a child with Down Syndrome and pro-life activist, was intended to prohibit abortion in case of malformation of the fetus. Kaja Godek managed to collect more than 800,000 signatures for this bill, which was also supported by the Polish Bishops.
“These signatures are the electorate of the ruling party who said to him,” You won thanks to us, now you must fulfill your promises to defend conservative values, “she recalls in a meeting. in the corridors of parliament, in Warsaw.
If the feminist bill to liberalize abortion was quickly rejected by Parliament, Ms. Godek’s proposed toughening of the law is being studied.
The Polish episcopate regularly presses for MPs to vote as quickly as possible.
Last March, thousands of Polish women, often accompanied by men, took to the streets again to demonstrate their opposition to this new attempt to limit their right to abortion to a minimum.
But Poland is deeply divided on this issue. On the one hand, the Church, which for more than a quarter of a century, has dictated the strategy of “protection of life”. On the other, women who want to regain control of their bodies.
“We want a secular state, we want to be free and democratic and not live in a theocracy,” says Agata Czarnacka, during a pro-choice event.
It is not only in Poland where abortion is at the heart of public debate. Ireland, which has the most restrictive law on abortion in Europe and has enshrined in its constitution the protection of the life of the fetus, is preparing for a referendum on the subject next Friday.
Tina Galo is a reporter for Clear Publicist. After graduating from college, Tim got an internship at NPR and worked as a reporter and sound engineer. Tim has also worked as a reporter for VICE. Tim covers entertainment and community events for Clear Publicist.