June 18, 2016

Thousands protest against proposed abortion ban in Poland

Thousands of pro-choice campaigners marched in central Warsaw Saturday rallying against proposals for an almost total ban on abortion in the staunchly Catholic country, where the existing law is already one of the most restrictive in the EU.

Chanting “I exist, I think, I decide” and touting banners reading “Women’s rights are human rights”, thousands of women and men joined the “March for Dignity”.

It was organised by the “Dziewuchy Dziewuchom” (Women for Women) Facebook group that has drawn over 100,000 members since being launch earlier this year.

“Women make up half of this country. We want respect. We want our rights to be respected,” Bozena Przyluska, one of the march organisers, told reporters as it kicked off.

Adopted in 1993, current legislation bans all terminations except in cases of pregnancies that result from rape or incest, pose a health risk to the mother, or where the foetus is severely deformed.

Anti-abortion activists backed by the influential Catholic Church now want to table a citizen’s bill in the conservative-dominated parliament that would allow abortions only when necessary to save a woman’s life.

The proposal would also increase the maximum jail term for people who perform unauthorised abortions from two years to five.

Pro-choice advocates have launched their own plan to garner 100,000 signatures supporting a bill liberalising pregnancy terminations.

An opinion poll published in March found that, far from supporting further restrictions, 51 percent of Poles want access to abortions widened.

“I want to show my solidarity with women…everyone should be able to choose for themselves,” Jerzy Grzegorkiewicz, a 63-year-old graphic designer and father of two who joined the march, told AFP.

Marcher Agnieszka, a 40-year-old pregnant mother of one who declined to provide her surname, told AFP she supports existing abortion legislation insisting that terminations “must be available in cases of rape.”

In power since November, Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government has endorsed the restrictive citizens’ bill.

The petition needs 100,000 signatures to be examined by parliament. The organisers have said they will continue their signature-gathering drive until the end of June.

Under 2,000 legal abortions take place in Poland each year.

There are no hard statistics on the number of illegal abortions performed, or on the number of women who travel abroad for the procedure to countries like Austria, Germany and Slovakia.

Women’s rights organisations estimate their number at between 100,000 and 150,000 a year.