It's not over yet: Poland's abortion row explained


Poland's leading party announced on Wednesday that it would continue efforts to ban abortion completely in the country, despite a widespread backlash from the public and U-turn on the matter in parliament.

So what exactly has gone on?

What has the government been trying to do?

Jaroslaw Kaczynski
Jaroslaw Kaczynski reads notes before a vote in the Polish parliament (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)

It all started with an initiative by an anti-abortion citizens' initiative which, having reached 450,000 signatures, was eligible for consideration at the first stage of the legislative process.

Many of the MPs in Jaroslaw Kaczynski's governing Law and Justice Party voted to pass the bill through to the next stage when it came before parliament last month.

The bill would have made having an abortion a criminal offence in all cases except ones which endanger the mother's life, with jail time of up to five years.

Doctors who performed abortions under these circumstances would also be risking imprisonment for up to five years.

How was the proposed bill different from Poland's existing abortion laws?

The Polish parliament
The Polish parliament voted on the bill on October 6 (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)

Poland already has strict abortion laws which only allow for an abortion in the case of saving the woman's life, preserving her physical and mental health, impairment of the child or pregnancy in the case of rape or incest, according to the UN.

Abortions can only be performed up to 12 weeks' gestation (in the UK, the threshold is 24 weeks).

The current law, one of the strictest in the EU, was signed into law in March 1993.

How did Polish people react to the proposed ban?

Protesters in Poland
Protesters on 'Black Monday' (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)

On October 3, thousands of women dressed in black took to the streets of more than 60 Polish cities and towns as well as other EU countries in response to the proposed ban.

In Warsaw alone, 30,000 women were thought to be out on the streets against the restrictions.

The protests, termed Black Monday, forced educational institutions and government offices to close due to lack of staff.

A woman hangs a coat hanger on a pile of coat hangers
Protesters used the coat hanger as a symbol of the danger illegal abortions pose to women (Alik Keplicz/AP)

Many of the protesters brandished symbols of coat hangers, intimating that illegal, unsafe abortions will rise if the law was enacted.

Protesters in Poland
Thousands held umbrellas in Warsaw during the nationwide 'Black Monday' strike (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)

Did the government succeed?

The outpouring of rage and condemnation from Polish women at home and abroad, as well as open criticism from EU leaders, led to something of a U-turn for the Law and Justice Party.

Despite pushing the bill forward to vote on it earlier than scheduled, the party announced it would not require its MPs to vote with the party on the matter. The bill was voted down 352 votes to 58.

Is that the end of the matter, then?

Jaroslaw Kaczynski in the Polish parliament
Jaroslaw Kaczynski's party is working on a new bill (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)

Far from it. Yesterday, the party announced it was working on a new bill.

Kaczynski told the Polish news agency PAP: "We will strive to ensure that even in pregnancies which are very difficult, when a child is sure to die, strongly deformed, women end up giving birth so that the child can be baptised, buried, and have a name."

Poland isn't the only EU country currently wrangling over abortion laws. Protesters in Ireland have been asking the government to repeal the eighth amendment to their constitution, which was added by public vote in 1983. The controversial amendment equates the life of the unborn with the mother's right to life, leading many Irish women to fly to the UK for abortion services.