Thousands of Poles dressed in black have marched through the streets of Warsaw in protest against proposals for a total ban on abortion.
The debate around reproductive rights in Poland has been building up for months. The governing Law and Justice party, which came to power in last year, plans to tighten the country’s abortion law to bring it into line with the Catholic Church’s teachings, infuriating liberals and pro-choice activists.
Poland’s existing abortion law is already one of the most restrictive in Europe. Abortion is permitted in only three cases: a severe foetal anomaly, a threat to the mother’s health and life, or a pregnancy from rape or sexual abuse.
According to the BBC, if the law passes, it could result in women who have had a miscarriage also being investigated on suspicion they had the pregnancy terminated deliberately
The protesters, who wore black as a sign of mourning for their reproductive rights, also waved wire coat hangers, an item long associated with underground abortions.
Poland’s draconian abortion legislation replaced communist-era laws, which made abortion widely available for four decades. Since the strict laws were passed in 1993, the number of legal abortions performed annually fell from more than 100,000 to fewer than 1000.
The draft bill being proposed by anti-choice groups will have to be discussed by parliament if a petition in favour of it gains 100,000 signatures, according to The Economist.
If it passes, doctors who performed an abortion could also be punished with jail terms of up to five years. The only exception would be the “unintended” death of a foetus while saving a woman’s life.
Professor Romuald Debski, who works at a hospital in Warsaw, told Polish media: “Whoever causes the death of the unborn child is punishable by imprisonment up to three years. If I have a patient with pre-eclampsia, who is 32 weeks pregnant, I will have to let her and her child die.
“I have to, because if I perform a caesarean section and the child dies, I may go to prison for three years, because the child was premature."