The XX Factor

After Widespread Protests, Polish Lawmakers Abandon Total Abortion Ban

Polish residents protest and strike against a proposed abortion ban on October 3, 2016 in Warsaw. 

Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images

Conservative lawmakers in Poland have abandoned a proposed law that would have banned abortion under all circumstances, getting rid of the country’s current exceptions for cases of rape, incest, major fetal deformity, and serious threat to a pregnant woman’s health.

The proposal was backed by the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) and the highly influential Catholic Church, but it was originally put forward by a conservative activist group that got 450,000 signatures on an associated petition, qualifying it for parliamentary consideration.

PiS backed down from the bill after tens of thousands of Polish residents, including about 30,000 in Warsaw alone, went on strike and held demonstrations around the country on Monday. Dressed in black, women across Europe protested abortion regulations that would have turned Poland’s already-strict policies into some of the most barbaric in the world. The Guardian reports that Liberal party member of parliament and former prime minister Ewa Kopacz said PiS withdrew its support for the total ban “because it was scared by all the women who hit the streets in protest.”

At a parliamentary committee meeting on Wednesday, PiS legislators who’d cheered on the bill just days ago reversed their previous support and voted against it. The lower house of parliament will still vote tomorrow to either reject the bill completely or return it to the committee for more work, but reports indicate that the bigwigs in the party have changed their minds. “I want to state very clearly that the PiS government is not working on any legislation changing the rules on abortion in Poland,” Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said on Tuesday. As part of the Black Monday demonstrations, abortion-rights activists sent Szydlo wire clothes hangers in the mail.

Even the country’s conservative minister of science and higher education, Jarosław Gowin, told the Associated Press that this week’s protests “caused us to think and taught us humility.” But there’s reason to believe that this public self-abasement is just a distraction from other, more incremental reproductive-rights restrictions conservative legislators are trying to push through. According to the BBC, the PiS leader in Polish parliament says his party is working on a new bill that would ban abortions sought for cases of Down Syndrome, which are currently legal under the country’s laws. Gowin has opposed state-funded in vitro fertilization for anyone but married women and lamented that “anything goes” when it comes to making and destroying embryos these days. He probably has his eye on a PiS-backed bill currently before parliament that would ban the freezing of embryos and limit in vitro fertilization to one egg at a time. These creeping regulations likely won’t inspire continent-wide protests, making them a far more insidious threat to women’s rights.