Mass protests make Polish govt reconsider blanket abortion ban

Women gesture as people gather in an abortion rights campaigners' demonstration to protest against plans for a total ban on abortion in front of the ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) headquarters in Warsaw, Poland October 3, 2016. © Kacper Pempel
Nationwide demos staged by women in Poland against a proposal for a blanket abortion ban may have achieved their goal, with a Polish minister admitting the protests gave authorities some “food for thought.”

“I’d like to reassure those who fear that abortions in Poland will be completely banned. The total abortion project certainly won’t pass. Abortions will stay in place for women who were raped or whose life or health is in danger,” Jaroslaw Gowin, Poland’s Minister of Science and Higher Education, said on Wednesday on Radio Koszalin, according to Polish Radio’s IAR news agency.

The mass protest, dubbed “Black Monday," saw some 100,000 women taking to the streets in various Polish cities, including Warsaw, Gdansk, Wroclaw and others. The protests “gave us food for thought and certainly taught us humility,” Gowin said, also noting that the rallies couldn’t have gone unnoticed.

The protesters included women who supported the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) in last October’s election, which is a worrying factor for the Polish government.

“They could lose the two sections of the electorate that helped them succeed,” said Aleksander Smolar, a liberal political analyst with the Stefan Batory Foundation, according to Reuters.

Nearly half of the country's population supported Monday’s protests, an opinion poll carried out for the liberal showed.

Gowin’s statement may imply that Poland’s conservative government is now trying to distance itself from the blanket abortion plan backed by the Catholic church, but extremely unpopular among the pro-choice activists.

Polish government is also struggling with pressure from the European Parliament, which has scheduled a debate on women’s rights in Poland for Wednesday. The debate was challenged by the European Conservatives and Reformists parliamentary group, that included Polish Law and Justice MEPs, however, the motion was rejected by the European Parliament on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, who initially stood for the restriction of abortions, called the debate “contrived” and said it diverts attention from real problems the EU has to deal with, such as uncontrolled flow of migrants and economic ambiguity stemming from UK’s decision to leave the bloc.

Poland’s upper house won’t proceed with the bill, instead waiting to see what the more powerful lower house will do, said Senate speaker Stanislaw Karczewski on Wednesday, according to AP. Karczewski, however, expressed his support for a ban on abortion of fetuses diagnosed with Down Syndrome.

“They are wonderful children, very much loved by their parents, very loving parents, bringing a lot of warmth and a lot of love into a home. I am a great opponent of killing such children,” Karczewski said.

The current law, introduced in Poland in 1993, prohibits abortions except in cases when a pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, puts woman’s life in danger or if a child is severely damaged or ill. The upgraded ban is supposed to outlaw all kinds of terminations.

READ MORE: ‘Death of women’s rights’: Thousands march in Poland to protest planned blanket abortion ban

In reality, many Polish doctors refuse to perform an abortion on moral grounds. In these cases Polish women are compelled to seek abortions in neighboring Germany or other countries, or to order emergency contraception pills online.

Mass protests staged by human rights activists and women’s rights groups have been staged across Poland. In response, a vast number of "pro-life" groups organized their own rallies that attracted thousands of supporters as well. A recent poll published by Newsweek Polska, however, suggests that nearly 74 percent of Poles believe that the abortion law – the way it looks now – should stay intact.