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5 October 2016

Poland backs down on abortion ban after women strike – a boost for all abortion rights campaigns

The government suggested a change in its position following the #czarnyprotest, saying the women had “taught us humility”.

By Stephanie Boland

Women rejoice! The Polish government has U-turned on an abortion bill following nationwide protests by activists on Monday.

The “Black Protest” encouraged women to strike for the day, wear black, and take to the streets to defend the current law. As it stands, Polish women are allowed to obtain an abortion in cases where the pregnancy poses a health risk to the other, if the foetus is severely deformed, or in cases of rape and incest.

The new law would have removed even these relatively limited exceptions, only allowing abortion if the mother’s life is at risk. This would have brought their law in line with countries such as the Republic of Ireland.

The bill also proposed introducing a five-year jail sentance for anyone who helps bring about “the death of a conceived child”  a punishment that would have been applied to pregnant women and doctors alike.

On Monday, Polish women made their feelings about these draconian measures impossible to ignore. Thousands of women refused to go to work, instead filling the streets of Warsaw with a surge of black, despite the rain.

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Jarosław Gowin, the minister for science and higher education, said that the protests have, “caused us to think and taught us humility”. As a result, he said, the abortion ban will not be implemented.

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The outcome is a significant, and, for many, unexpected, victory and not only for Polish women. With abortion rights firmly on the agenda across Europe, the success of the Black Protest will surely be encouraging for Ireland’s Repeal the 8th movement, and similar campaigns in places like Northern Ireland and Malta.

More broadly, it will encourage activists on other women’s issues, who are often unused to getting a positive response for their actions.

In short: congratulations, ladies, and may many more victories come your way.

If you would like to help fund safe abortion, a directory of charities who help women procure the treatment is available here.