Tens of thousands of people took to the streets across more than 100 Polish cities and towns on October 3 in protest against a bill proposing a near-complete ban on abortion.
Ordo Iuris, a Catholic organisation, submitted the bill - backed by some 450,000 signatures of support - to the Polish parliament earlier in September, concurrently with a rival proposal for liberalisation. However, the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) together with some opposition MPs, rejected the liberalisation proposal while pushing the restrictive Ordo Iuris draft to a second reading.
This has provoked a backlash across Poland, with women’s organisations and the political left putting together rallies under the “Women on Strike!” slogan, inspired by the general strike of women that paralysed Iceland in the 1970s. Many women took the day off while others manifested support by wearing black.
The proposed bill further restricts Poland’s already tough abortion law, which only allows termination of pregnancy in cases of rape or incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger. The Ordo Iuris bill goes further to criminalise nearly all abortions except when a woman’s life is “directly threatened". That, according to critics, will greatly limit possibilities of care and exacerbate risk of life loss.
Women organisations and medical experts also said the bill could end some kinds of prenatal care, as it can pose a risk to foetal health and doctors may be prone to avoiding this type of care completely. The bill will effectively cause prosecutors to look into any pregnancy loss, critics also charge.
PiS disregarded the protests at first. “Let them play,” Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski told radio RMF FM before protests grew later in the day. “Women’s rights in Poland are not in danger at all,” he said.
However, as an estimated 30,000 people gathered in downtown Warsaw, PiS was seen to change its tone somewhat. “The protests concerns a proposal that did not come from us,” PiS MP Malgorzata Gosiewska told a press conference in the parliament. There has been speculation that PiS voted the restrictive proposal through to the second reading so as as not to anger the Catholic Church, but will sit on it indefinitely in order not to risk protests.
But as thousands of people protested on October 3 - as well as earlier on October 1 - the upheaval appears already to be happening. It appears to have cost PiS points in the polls already. According to a recent poll by IBRiS, support for PiS fell to 29%. The biggest opposition party, Modern, closed in on at 25%, while the left Together party - which helped organise the protests - rose to 5%, the threshold above which parliamentary mandates are won.