WOMEN
03/19/2018 08:12 pm ET

Polish Women Protest Catholic Bishops' Intervention In Abortion Debate

Hundreds gathered this weekend to oppose a law that would further restrict reproductive rights in Poland.
Women protest a stricter anti-abortion measure in front of archdiocese headquarters in Krakow, Poland, on March 18, 2018.
Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Women protest a stricter anti-abortion measure in front of archdiocese headquarters in Krakow, Poland, on March 18, 2018.

Hundreds of women joined together in Poland on Sunday to voice their frustration with a campaign by Roman Catholic bishops to further restrict abortion access in the country.

The abortion rights activists were speaking out against a decision by the Polish bishops’ conference to support a bill that would ban abortion in cases where the fetus had a congenital disorder or deformity. 

About 400 people demonstrated outside the Catholic archbishop’s headquarters in Warsaw, according to The Associated Press. Another group protested in front of an archdiocese building in Krakow.

The protesters carried wire hangers to symbolize the dangers facing women driven to obtain illegal abortions by Poland’s already stringent laws.

People hold up wire hangers as they demonstrate in front of the seat of the Warsaw archdiocese on March 18.
JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images
People hold up wire hangers as they demonstrate in front of the seat of the Warsaw archdiocese on March 18.

The anti-abortion bill began as a citizens’ initiative pushed by conservative groups. On Monday, it won the support of a parliamentary committee on human rights, which means it will be studied by a second committee before potentially being submitted for a vote in Poland’s parliament, according to Agence France Presse

If the measure passes these remaining hurdles, Polish President Andrzej Duda has pledged to sign the bill into law, AFP reports.

But according to the Federation for Women and Family Planning, a Polish reproductive rights group, the measure had been languishing in a “legislative freezer” ― until the Catholic bishops intervened. 

“This illustrates the enormous power of the Church and the strong resistance of the politicians to put human rights over their own interests in the light of the upcoming elections in 2018 (local) and 2019 (national),” the federation said in a statement.

The women in Warsaw chanted the slogans “Nothing about us without us!” and “Save the women!”
JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images
The women in Warsaw chanted the slogans “Nothing about us without us!” and “Save the women!”

Poland already has some of the most stringent anti-abortion laws in Europe. The staunchly Catholic country made abortion illegal, with a few exceptions, in 1993. The move was strongly supported by Polish Catholic church leaders. Then-Pope John Paul II campaigned in his home country in favor of the bill.

Today, women in Poland are allowed to obtain abortions only if the mother’s life is at risk, there’s a fetal abnormality, or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. Women can have a hard time finding doctors who will perform abortions even when they fall under those exceptions, according to Time.

As a result, some women travel to nearby countries like Germany to have the procedure done or seek abortions from underground providers in Poland. Others order pills for abortions online.

A female protester holds a sign during the demonstration in Krakow.
Omar Marques/SOPA Images via Getty Images
A female protester holds a sign during the demonstration in Krakow.

According to Poland’s official statistics, about 1,000 legal abortions occur there every year. (The country has a population of roughly 38 million.) Abortion rights activists say the number of illegal abortions could be more than 10 times higher.

An estimated 95 percent of legal abortions in Poland are obtained because of fetal abnormalities, The Guardian reports.

Polish women have been voicing opposition to their country’s restrictive abortion laws in recent years. In 2016, thousands of women went on strike across the country to protest a draft law that sought to enact a total ban on abortion. About 30,000 people gathered in a central Warsaw square to demonstrate against the legislation. It was ultimately rejected.

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