Poland: Women’s strike against abortion law amendment

A women’s strike in currently underway in Poland in protest at a proposed amendment to their already restrictive abortion laws. People around the world are sending messages of solidarity using the hashtags #BlackMonday, #CzarnyPoniedzialek, #CzarnyProtest and #StrajkKobiet.

Official strikes are taking place in over 60 Polish cities. Some businesses, universities and corporations have closed as part of the strike whilst others have enabled their female staff to participate in the protests.

The new law seeks to not only criminalize women and girls who have sought or had an abortion, making them liable to a prison term of between three months and five years, but also increase the maximum jail term for anyone who assists or encourages them have an abortion.

On 23 September, Polish MPs voted against rejecting the proposal and referred it to a parliamentary committee for revisions and further discussions.

Poland’s abortion law is already one of the most restrictive in Europe, with abortion only permitted in cases of rape or incest, when the fetus is diagnosed with severe and irreversible disability or an incurable illness threatening its life, or when the woman’s life or health is in danger.

The proposed legislation would impose a prohibition in all circumstances other than in cases where medical health professionals deem it necessary to save a woman’s life. This will inevitably place women’s health at risk, and put doctors in impossible situations. With no clear guidelines about how close to death a woman or a girl must be for performing an abortion for medical reasons to be lawful, the onus will be on doctors to delay for as long as possible.

Under the proposed law, inadvertently causing the death of the ‘conceived child’ carries a prison term of three years maximum for the health professional. This is likely to have a chilling effect on medical professionals, undermining their ability to provide adequate medical care, information and advice to their patients thus putting women’s and girls’ health and lives at risk.

Amnesty International’s research in Ireland, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Paraguay has shown that in all these countries women and girls pay a high price for restrictions on safe and legal abortion. They pay with their health, their well-being and even with their lives.

Decisions about women’s bodies and health should be made by women themselves, in consultation with their doctors, and not by politicians.

Any further restrictions to Poland’s already extremely dysfunctional abortion system would not only have a detrimental effect on the lives and health of millions of women and girls but also constitute a regressive measure, not justified under international human rights law.

“Women and girls who have sought or had an abortion would be criminalized and the maximum jail term for anyone who assists or encourages them to have an abortion will be increased from three to five years,” said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe.

“Poland’s abortion law is already one of the most restrictive in Europe and these amendments will put women and girls at risk and doctors in impossible situations. We know from countries with similar draconian laws how women pay the price, with their health and even with their lives.”

“A woman who needs an abortion is not a criminal and decisions about her body and her health should never be placed in the hands of politicians.”

Follow @amnestyPL and @annaMatyldaBlus

There are actions taking place in cities around the world. For example, this vigil in London tonight (6pm -7pm) https://www.facebook.com/events/1158430467539815/

Link to recent OpEd by Anna Blus: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/09/a-dangerous-backward-step-for-women-and-girls-in-poland/