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Poland: Citizen Initiative for Complete Abortion Ban

This post is part of our special coverage Global Development 2011.

Some 600,000 people have signed a petition in support of the draft amendment [pl, pdf] to Poland's abortion law intending to ban abortion in Poland without exceptions – even when the life of a woman is threatened. On July 1, 2011, against a motion of the Democratic Left Alliance Party to dismiss the proposal after the first reading, the Polish Parliament (the Sejm) voted in favour of the draft and passed it to further discussion in the parliamentary committee.

Currently, Poland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, a result of a compromise between political parties. According to the current legislation, abortion is banned except under the following three circumstances: when a woman's life or health is endangered; when pregnancy is the result of a criminal act; or when the fetus is seriously malformed. Pregnant women are not subject to penalty, but everyone else involved is: this might be a doctor who carried out the abortion, or a person who persuaded the woman to abort.

The draft amendment was submitted by the Citizen Legislative Committee created by PRO–Right to Life Foundation [pl]. It is officially supported by the clergy [pl] and has caused many protests. According to a a survey [pl] ordered by PRO–Right to Life Foundation, 65 percent of the Poles are for protecting life from the moment of conception.

On Facebook [pl], PRO-Right to Life Foundation's page states:

We believe that abortion is a murder committed on an innocent person. We believe that at this moment the phenomenon takes features of a genocide. We believe that abortion in a civilised world is a scandal. That it why we take action.

Some 600,000 Poles have signed a petition in support of the draft amendment to ban abortion without exceptions. Photo by Flickr user bartheq (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

 

The proposal created a lot of controversies among Polish netizens. A male blogger going by the name Feminista007 is outraged [pl]:

What is scandalous about this debate is that one totally omits women and nobody from the “defenders” [of life] speaks a word about their lives. Many women in Poland died only because of bad medical treatment (or not being treated at all), because the doctors had a sensible conscience. This conscience often doesn't work in a private consulting room. The only thing that works there are market rules. The draft amendment won't protect life, it may only cause death of many women and strengthen the underground abortion business. [...] One of the arguments of the initiative's supporters is that the project has indeed been signed by many people, around 500,000. But I would say that even if they had collected 25 million citizens’ signatures, non of these persons would have had a moral right to tell a woman whose life is in danger what she is supposed to do, regardless of whether he wears a cassock, trousers or a skirt.

On June 29, a Polish ethics professor and feminist Magdalena Środa wrote this [pl] on the Polish microblogging platform Blip:

I’m glad that this anti-feminine trash landed in the Parliament. It will start a debate about liberalization of the abortion law.

Środa also linked to a newspaper interview [pl], in which she claimed that many persons who have signed the petition were not really conscious of what they were doing:

I think that if they found themselves in a situation of rape, unwanted pregnancy or a choice between their own health and the life of their child or if it was their child who was pregnant, they would decide to abort.

Tomasz Terlikowski, a conservative Polish journalist and philosopher, defends [pl] the initiative on his blog:

There can be no compromise that leads to killing people. In 2009, it was 549 persons, and from one year to another the amount of the killed is rising. We have to ask ourselves what is more important – human life or compromise? The killed ones or peace and quiet?

Many bloggers, as well as the mainstream media, discussed the issue as a natural part of the upcoming 2011 election campaign.

Feminista007 criticised [pl] the governing party Civic Platform, many of whose members didn’t show up for the voting and those who did – surprisingly many – voted in favor of the draft:

A huge, huge mistake! Not so long ago PM Donald Tusk declared that the Civic Platform would not kneel before a priest. You can't kneel if you're lying with your face on the ground! It is a pathological situation indeed when members of the parliament quail before the episcopate. Somehow it is understandable, because the election is coming up and, as always, the apolitical church will not point to the candidates but will pronounce for values. A question emerges: who is governing Poland?

While many voices focus on the excessive influence of the church in the debate, reakcjonistka argues [pl] on her blog:

Today nobody wants to have discussions with abortion opponents. It is enough to associate their beliefs with Catholic religion and here you go, you can reject their demands without any problems. [...] Even if at the source of the opposition to abortion there is the Catholic worldview, that doesn't mean that there are no arguments behind it.

In the context of the debate, a number of feminist online portals, such as www.seksulanosc-kobiet.pl [pl], drew attention to a 2009 documentary called ‘Underground Women's State’ [pl]. On the website and in the movie, the authors are trying to show the helplessness of the Polish pro-choice movement in the face of political bargains. The film features activists of the movement, from different generations, as well as eight women who had had illegal abortions and were talking about their experiences for the first time.

According to the description on YouTube, no distributor has risked buying and introducing the documentary to cinemas and no public or commercial television station aired it. Below you can watch a teaser, uploaded on YouTube by EntuzjastkiGF [pl] on September 17, 2009, with the English subtitles. (You can watch the entire movie, in Polish, on YouTube, here.)

The Democratic Left Alliance Party decided to use the debate to emphasize their own perspective. On July 4, they presented [pl] a bill to liberalize the abortion law. The party wants to introduce refundable legal abortion till the 12th week of pregnancy, funding for contraceptives and sexual education in schools. Rbik53 concluded [pl]:

…What a pity that the election campaign passes so quickly…

This post is part of our special coverage Global Development 2011.

  • selkt.sa

    this is fucking horrible. poland is KILLING women, by not giving them the medical procedure they need, when their life is endangered by pregnancy.

    why don’t they just put women into forced pregnancy camps, and slash the women down after giving birth? or get them cyklone-b?

    if this mass of women-hatred and mysogyny would happen to any other group or ethnicity, un, eu, all international boards would run down the agressor country.

    but its only happening to womens’ lives, and bodies, and as women are still inferior to the governing male politicians and priests, nobody does anything.

    i wonder, if there would be EVER any restrictions for the sake of the life of the sperms, if a man would be denied chemotherapy or surgery due testicle cancer???

  • Pingback: أهداف الألفية الإنمائية للعام 2011 · Global Voices الأصوات العالمية

  • http://whatshappeningtowomen.blogspot.com R Bista

    Please have a print version on your website!!!! I tried to print this and it is spewing out 22 pages – just for one article! A printer-friendly button would be so useful. Thanks. PS great article.

    • Emma Brewin

      Thanks for your comment.

      The print button is in the share box, at the top right of the post.

      Hope this helps.

  • Anna

    Between the 1960s-1980s, abortion was the only method of birth control in Poland. There are a lot of women from the previous generations who are so mentally screwed up from having 8,9, 10 abortions! I think the law is fine as is. If a woman wants an abortion she can go over the border. I do not believe for a second that any of these women are dying from abortions. It has already been proven that these women are extremely mentally ill looking for attention (i.e. Alicja Tysiac). What I would like to know about Alicja Tysiac is does she really love her daughter Julia? I don’t care what gender, religion or race you are, asking the government to compensate you because you could not murder your own child is absolutely sick. I truly hope her daughter grows up and gives her the kick in the behind she deserves. I try, but I have very little sympathy for women who want to murder their own children. If some die in the process, oh well. It should not be our problem. If it was men having abortions everyone would want them hanged!

  • Marcin

    Hi All,
    Abortion is a hot topic now and so it’s critical to take systematic and educated view on it, instead of emotional one. Statements about pregnancy camps or cyklone-b won’t make things any clearer. I recommend that – as a starting point – everyone reads the report by the father of American pro-choice law, founder of the largest clinic world-wide, speaking about church involvement, women’s rights, media and politics:

    http://bit.ly/dr-bnat-cna

    Polish translation can be found here: http://bit.ly/drbnat-diakpl

    Have a good read!

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