With a significant pro-choice victory in Poland as the country’s conservative PiS government performs a U-turn on restricting access to abortion in the case of incest, rape, fatal foetal abnormality and risk to the mother’s life, it is easy to forget that the EU still has one State in which very few of the above constitute a legitimate cause for abortion.
Last year the Republic of Ireland became the first country to legalise same sex marriage through a popular referendum with an overwhelming victory, which seemed to signal a new liberal turn in a country many people across Europe and the world associate with conservative Catholicism. Yet Ireland, despite calls from the EU, the Council of Europe and the UN, has retained one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, where fatal foetal abnormalities and rape are not considered legal grounds for the termination of a foetus and where, even in the cases where woman’s life would be endangered by seeing a foetus to term, a woman might be denied the necessary treatment. Enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland (Bunreacht na hÉireann) the Eighth Amendment prevents a woman having an abortion because the foetus is considered to have an equal right to life:
Recurrent images of the masses of women filing through the streets of Europe’s capitals remind us that the conflict over whether to prioritize women’s right to choose or a fetus’ right to live is one at the heart of many major social debates. Not only does it chafe at the junctions between social progress and tradition, individualism and normativity, encouraging women to exercise their right to self-determination and protecting sacralized family life; the issue also serves as a pin on which politicians hang the canvases they paint of ‘their’ nations as either traditionalist religious countries respectful of their past (such as Poland under PiS) or liberal countries pragmatically looking to the future (e.g. The Netherlands under VVD).
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The Czarny Protest- Women in Poland don black to protest the loss of their dignity and security in rallies held outside of parliament buildings and in town squares across major cities in Poland.
They are wearing black to protest the introduction of new abortion laws which would see victims of rape and incest forced to give birth to the result of their violations, whilst those whose fetus has severe or permanent impairment, those who would be at risk of long-term health complications from carrying their child to term, will have no choice in the matter. Soon Poland may see a law passed that restricts abortion in all but the most clear cut life and death situations.
The abortion law in force now, was passed in 1993 and restricts abortions save for cases of risk to the mother’s life, impairment of the fetus, and children conceived through rape and incest.
Women are being told by the Polish Parliament that their life, their place in Polish society, the fact that they are theoretically equal citizens before the law, matters less than what their womb can produce.
Pro-life activists, backed by the Catholic Church, were the ones who submitted this new law for the consideration of the Parliament, asking for the complete restriction of abortions save for life or death situations and gathered half a million signatures, four hundred thousand more than was necessary for submission.
The Law and Justice Party (PiS) who is currently in power and considering these further restrictions, are a national right-wing conservative party but even the main opposition party Civic Platform- a liberal-conservative party, has refused to consider liberalizing abortion laws.
If the anti-abortion bills become law, women and female children who do undergo abortions for any reason short of life and death situations will risk between three months and five years in prison. Whilst doctors who seek to perform these unauthorized abortions will face increased prison sentences. The Gazeta Wroclawska quotes one protester stating that:”It’s a cruel and inhuman law. It will endanger all of us. We do not want to live in a country where the bed of a pregnant woman is surrounded by armed police officers and a prosecutor, where every abortion ends in investigation, where raped girls are forced to bear the children of their rapists ” (Translated from Polish)
Pro-choice activists have tried to counter with their own initiative by producing a bill called ‘Save the Women’, which would allow abortions for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.Within a very short time the bill had collected215,000 signatures but has since been ignored by the Parliament.
The reasoning behind the Black Protest movement is described by the organizer of the Lublin branch, Catherine Babis, as – “(We) organized the protest, because we are tired of being treated like objects in the ideological controversy. It is easy to talk about sacrifice and holiness of life, if it applies to sacrifice someone else. We do not agree with forcing women to be heroic in the name of someone else’s ideology and someone else’s beliefs. We can see how it ends in countries that have introduced similar laws, countries dealing out sentences for miscarriage, and the doctors looking idly on the death of women who could be saved. We do not want Poland to be turned into a hell for women. We want dignity and security for us and for our families.”