On Friday 11 September, a draft bill attempting to ban access to legal abortion in all cases was rejected by the Polish Parliament.
There were 206 votes in favour of its rejection against 178 who voted for the bill to be passed. 66 MPs were not present and 10 abstained from voting. Earlier in the week the Federation for Women and Family Planning (FWFP)led a protest against the bill in front of the Polish Sejm in Warsaw. Over 100 people from feminist and pro-choice groups gathered to voice their outrage at the proposed bill.
The bill aimed to amend the Act on Family Planning, Protection of the Human Foetus and Conditions of Pregnancy Termination and related Acts, and was submitted by the committee Stop Abortion.
The bill included a total ban on abortion, as well as a proposal to remove any reference to prenatal diagnosis of a foetus as a woman’s right to information and testing.
The bill also made very narrow provisions for situations where maternal complications may put a women's life at risk. A proposed Criminal Code would have meant that doctors who “kill a conceived baby” while saving a woman would not be punished, although this still would not have meant the right to terminate in these cases.
The debate in parliament was only followed by a small number of MPs, and although NGOs and activists from both sides were present at the gallery they had no right to speak. On a few occasions representatives from Stop Abortion had to be warned by the Speaker over their use of inflammatory language; unnecessarily conflating abortion with terms like 'murder', 'Holocaust' and 'Hitler'.
Unfortunately, while Marie Stopes International and the pro-choice community welcome the defeat of this bill, it remains a bitter victory. This is just the latest in a long line of attempts to undermine women’s reproductive rights in Poland. Attempts to influence the Polish political scene reoccur every year, making Poland one of the harshest countries in Europe when it comes to women's reproductive rights.
The true scale of the “abortion underground” - where numerous illegal and unsafe procedures happen daily - remains unknown. One thing is for sure though: policy makers in Poland cannot continue to remain ignorant to this issue.
That's why we signed a letter to Polish MPs, the Speaker of the Parliament and the Prime Minister, along with other NGOs and organisations from the international community, urging the Polish government to consider the impact of this proposed bill.