In a remarkable development, politicians from the right wing government in Poland are saying that mass protests around the country on Monday, Oct. 3, caused them to reconsider supporting a total abortion ban in the country.
“The proposal to ban abortion completely definitely will not pass. Abortion will not be banned when a woman had been raped or when her life or health are in danger,” said Jaroslaw Gowin, deputy prime minister and minister of higher education and science, in a radio interview (Polish). The scale of Monday’s protest, he added, “gave us food for thought and taught us humility.”
“Black Monday” was an organized effort to protest a citizen proposal currently under review by the Polish parliament, that would make the country’s already harsh abortion laws even stricter. Polish police estimate that 100,000 people participated in 143 rallies across the country. Inspired by a women’s rights strike in Iceland in 1975, many women refused to work as a form of protest.
The total ban was never likely to pass in its current form. Gowin, who generally opposes abortion and in vitro fertilization, warned that a complete abortion ban would lead to “rebellion” (Polish) in April. But Stanislaw Karczewski, who presides over the senate, the higher chamber of Poland’s bicameral parliament, floated last week (Polish) the idea that the majority (and conservative) Law and Justice party would put forth its own counterproposal which would change the law to ban abortion in cases where the fetus could have Down syndrome. After the protests, though, Karczewski said at a briefing (Polish) the plan would be halted, and that the senate instead will wait for the results of the review of the citizen’s proposal by the lower chamber of parliament.
The ruling party is facing additional pressure to liberalize in the international arena: today (Oct. 5) the European Parliament will meet to discuss women’s rights in Poland. After the controversial abortion ban proposal was introduced in Poland, the Socialist and Democrat group in the European Parliament motioned that the topic be discussed on the parliament’s floor. Polish politicians have opposed the debate, arguing that abortion laws are an internal matter, and that the EU does not regulate these affairs. But Malin Björk, a Swedish member of the European Parliament, made the case that “if we can discuss human rights, we can discuss women’s rights,” according to Radio Poland.