After Mass Street Protests, Poland Backs Off of Proposal to Blanket Ban Abortion

After Mass Street Protests, Poland Backs Off of Proposal to Blanket Ban Abortion

Earlier this week, Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski mocked activists for planning demonstrations in the capital of Warsaw to protest a proposal that would implement a blanket ban on abortion access in the Eastern European country.

“Let them have their fun,” he said, adding that it was a “mockery” to be “dressing up [and] screaming silly slogans and vulgarities.”

On Wednesday, the protesters came out en masse anyway — some 30,000 of them dressed in black, chanting that doctors should not act as missionaries, as they surrounded Warsaw’s Castle Square.

And their huge gathering may just have been what it took for lawmakers to drop their push for a full abortion ban, which would criminalize it to an extent that it would prevent women from turning to abortion even in cases of rape or if their own life is in danger. Women who chose an illegal abortion could then face prison time for doing so.

On Wednesday, Stanislaw Karczewski, speaker of the Polish Senate upper house, said that lawmakers in favor of the full abortion ban were set to drop their draft legislation from consideration. And Jarosław Gowin, a science minister in Prime Minister Beata Szydlo’s cabinet, said the protests had “caused us to think and taught us humility.”

“A total ban certainly won’t get through,” he said. “Abortion will certainly not be banned when the woman is the victim of rape or if her life or her health is in danger.” Poland already bans abortion for anyone who isn’t a victim of rape or incest, or whose life isn’t threatened by the fetus. The new proposal could send women who choose to abort — and the doctors who perform the abortions — to prison for up to five years.

The move comes after senior officials began distancing themselves from the proposal, which gained country-wide support after anti-abortion NGOs and the Catholic Church lobbied for support. Although the ruling Law and Justice party did not introduce the bill, the party’s leaders, including Szydlo, had indicated that she supported the initiative.

On Wednesday she insisted that is no longer the case.

“I want to say it very loudly and clearly. The government of PiS [Law and Justice] is not working on any law that would change the currently binding regulations,” she said.

Photo credit: JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images