For the time being, the Polish government has pledged not to tighten abortion laws.

 For the time being, the Polish government has pledged not to tighten abortion laws.


Since 2015, the topic of abortion has been at the heart of the fight between pro-choice and women's rights activists in Poland and the conservative government's repeated attempts, backed by the Catholic church, to tighten the law governing abortion terminations.

According to recent sources, the divisive issue will be put to rest in Europe's most religious country, at least for the time being, and will not be pursued by the ruling Law and Justice party, which is already under pressure and in upheaval on multiple fronts.

According to the Polish administration, there will be no changes to the abortion law before November 2019.

Last Monday, Poland's deputy prime minister, Jaroslow Gowin, stated that the government will not take any steps to tighten abortion regulations during the current legislative term, which runs through November 2019.

This announcement comes after local allegations that PiS head and de facto leader of Poland Jaroslaw Kaczynski advised his party members in a closed-door meeting that they should not try to push the abortion issue at this time. Local media indicate that Kaczynski asked Law and Justice MPs to put abortion on hold for now, and gave them certain guidelines and instructions to follow ahead of next year's elections, citing individuals who leaked information about the private meeting to the Polish news agency.

“Black Friday” protests earlier this year.

Since taking power in 2015, the ruling PiS party, which has deep ties to the Catholic church and ultra-conservative circles, has attempted to limit the circumstances in which women can terminate their pregnancy on many occasions. Currently, Poland has one of the harshest abortion laws in Europe, allowing it only in three circumstances: when the mother's health is in jeopardy, when the pregnancy is the consequence of rape or incest, or when the foetus is abnormal.

Thousands of people marched through Warsaw and other Polish cities in March to protest the government's plan to tighten abortion regulations. The law, which was subsequently dropped due to public outcry, made it illegal to have an abortion in the third case (serious and irreversible damage to the foetus), which accounts for roughly 95% of all legal abortions today.

Opponents of the bill, which amounted to a near-total prohibition, claimed it would drive many women to get illicit abortions, which are already more common than legal ones (from 10.000 to 150.000, compared to less than 2.000 legal terminations, according to estimates). Many Polish women come to Germany to have their pregnancies terminated.

“A black day for Polish women”

The policy, which was presented by hardline conservative groups that claimed that most women abort their pregnancy once their kid is diagnosed with Down's Syndrome, has raised serious concerns among human rights organisations and foreign observers. Polish parliamentarians were encouraged to reject the bill by experts from the Council of Europe and the United Nations. Preventing women from accessing safe and legal abortion treatment jeopardises their human rights, said Nils Muiznieks, the Council's human rights commissioner.

According to Krystyna Kacpura, executive director of the Federation for Women and Family Planning, this is a black day for Polish women. Polish women will perish if the bill is passed. We are treated as if we are unneeded; we are only there to give birth, and if we give birth to a really ill child, we are left to raise the child alone.

This isn't simply a text, the Stop Abortion group countered. Every day, this law affects the lives of three people. We will work to ensure that even in difficult pregnancies, when a kid is certain to die, strongly disfigured, mothers end up giving birth so that the infant can be baptised, buried, and given a name, Kaczynski said at the time.

Polish protesters used the hashtag déjavu as one of their rallying cries, marching to the tune of chants like "My uterus" is not your chapel. This wasn't the first attempt to curtail their rights. Read our interview at the time of the protests to learn how many Polish women reconcile their Catholic religion with liberal positions on subjects like abortion.

Protests against a near-total ban erupted in 2016 in large numbers.

This year's bill's proposed revisions were less restricted than those suggested in 2016, which might have resulted in a total prohibition except in circumstances where the mother's life was at risk. However, after significant protests, the proposal was cancelled as well.

Despite the Catholic church's initial support, bishops soon distanced themselves from the measure, which was not sponsored by the ruling Law and Justice party but rather stemmed from a citizens' initiative that amassed nearly half a million signatures. "Abortion will certainly not be banned when the woman is the victim of rape or if her health is in danger," Jaroslaw Gowin, who was already deputy Prime Minister at the time, had tried to reassure women, saying, "abortion will certainly not be banned when the woman is the victim of rape or if her health is in danger."

The legalisation of abortion has been a long-standing topic in Polish society.

"It is often believed in the west that, because Poland is a Catholic country, abortion restrictions must be universally supported," the Financial Times noted. This is not the case. In January, 37% of Poles supported the current abortion law being liberalised, while 43% backed the status quo. Only 15% of those polled supported a total ban."

This growing opposition to stricter abortion restrictions is also linked to a shift in Poland's attitude toward the church, whose reputation and moral authority have been tarnished by its close ties to politicians, as well as recent sex and abuse scandals. Only 30% of Poles believe the church is neutral, according to a June 2017 poll.

Since 2015, PiS has used various means to limit women's access to abortions: it cut funds for IVF treatment and introduced a bill, which was signed by the president, requiring women to obtain a doctor's prescription before using the contraceptive pill.

Pro-choice activists, on the other hand, are pushing back. Despite the fact that it was rejected by MPs before reaching the committee stage, lawmakers had to consider a plan to liberalise abortion regulations earlier this year, which would allow abortions until the 12th week and improve access to medical care, emergency contraception, and sex education.

All indications imply that, while the issue may have been resolved, for the time being, it is only a matter of time before it resurfaces.

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