On October 6, Poland’s lower chamber of Parliament voted down a bill that would have implemented a near-total ban on abortions. The proposed bill, defeated by a margin of 352-58, would have forbidden all abortion procedures except in instances when the health of the mother would be threatened.
The pro-life group Stop Abortion and the legal organization Ordo Iuris brought the legislation before the parliament. The proposed bill garnered 450,000 signatures, surpassing the requirement of 250,000 needed for the parliament to consider the law.
The bill enjoyed popular support and tacit approval from PiS, Poland’s ruling conservative party. Both Prime Minister Beata Szydło and deputy justice minister Patryk Jaki declared their personal support for the measure. In addition, the Catholic Church backed the bill until shortly before the October 6 vote, eventually retracting its support after it discovered that one of the bill’s provisions would punish women who procured abortions with jail time.
Polish women organized by the pro-choice group, Save the Women, protested the bill three days before the vote. An estimated 17,000 protesters took to the streets in Warsaw alone and an estimated 100,000 protested nationwide in what was named the “Black Protest” because the women dressed in black mourning clothes and carried black flags.
Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister, Jarosław Gowin said in an interview with Radio Koszalin that the protesters had given lawmakers “food for thought and certainly taught us humility.”
The European Union also pressured Poland to reject the bill, after the European Parliament debated the measure on October 5. Most EP members expressed their disapproval.
Save the Women brought a counter-proposal before Poland’s parliament that expanded the exemptions for abortion. Currently, abortions are only allowed in cases of rape or incest, when the life of the mother is in serious danger, or when the fetus is severely damaged. Save the Women’s proposal would allow abortion on demand up to twelve weeks. It was voted down by a margin of 230-173 two weeks before the October 6 vote.
In a report from the BBC, in the southeastern region of Podkarpackie, doctors signed a “declaration of conscience” and refused to carry out any more abortion procedures. The move effectively bans abortions locally, without recourse to legislation.
The Ordo Iuris bill would have aligned Poland’s stance on abortion with that of Vatican City and Malta, who have a near-total ban on the procedure. Abortion restrictions also exist in Ireland, Norther Ireland, San Marino, Liechtenstein, and Andorra.