Polish Women Take to the Streets...Again
In the final debate last Monday, Americans watched as their presidential candidates briefly discussed their views on the future of abortion laws in the United States. That debate prompted further discussion over the definition, and morality, of late-term, “partial-birth” abortion. Public opinion on the morality and legality of abortion in the United States remains sharply divided.
Meanwhile, earlier this month in Poland, the government proposed a total ban on abortion. Considered one of the most restrictive in the European Union, current Polish law bans abortion except in the cases of: pregnancy as a result of rape or incest; the continuation of the pregnancy threatens the mother’s life or health; severe, irreparable malformation the fetus; or fetus with life-threatening, incurable disease.1 The new proposal would have banned abortion in all circumstances, except when the mother’s life is in danger, and imposed prison sentences of up to 5 years on women and physicians involved in willfully ending a pregnancy.2 The proposal was the result of a citizen’s initiative with over 450,000 signatures and appeared close to passing through to law until the first protests began.2 An estimated 100,000 Poles, a vast majority of them women dressed in all black to mourn the loss of their reproductive rights, mobilized in the streets of several Polish cities on October 3rd to protest the ban. Public officials then distanced themselves from the initiative and it was dropped.2
This past Sunday, October 23rd and Monday, October 24th, Polish protesters took to the streets once again to voice their opposition to another proposal, which would ban abortions in cases where the fetus was determined to be malformed in some manner or unlikely to survive to birth. It remains uncertain whether these renewed protests will be effective in halting the legislation, as they were with the earlier proposal.3
A major contention with the protesters is the influence of Roman Catholic Church teachings on their government,4 but the fact that 87% of the nation is Roman Catholic remains quite relevant to the current debate over abortion rights.2 Between two-thirds and three-fourths of the nation wants the Polish abortion laws to remain unchanged.2 53% of Polish adults support the right to legal abortion in the case of fetal defects and 52% in the case that the child would be born disabled-- situations in which abortion would be banned under the newest proposal.1 This figure drops to 15% for the right to legal abortion for a woman in a difficult material situation, 12% for a woman in a difficult personal situation, and 14% for a woman not wanting a child.1 This same public opinion report from April 2016 suggests that the percentages are not significantly different between the general adult population and the female population of childbearing years.1
"Polish Public Opinion," CBOS Public Opinion Research Center, Published April 2016, Accessed October 24, 2016 at http://www.cbos.pl/PL/publikacje/public_opinion/2016/04_ 2016.pdf.
"Poland's Tussle over Abortion Ban," BBC News, Published October 6, 2016, Accessed October 24, 2016 at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37449903.
The Associated Press, "Poles Stage New Protests Over Proposed Abortion Restrictions," New York Times, Published October 23, 2016, Accessed October 24, 2016 at http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/10/23/world/europe/ap-eu-poland-abortion.html.
"Moves to Ban Abortion in Poland Are Dividing Opinion,” BBC News, Published April 20, 2016, Accessed October 24, 2016 at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36095359.