Following massive protests across the country, Poland’s parliament overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would have made its abortion laws the most stringent in Europe. Opposed by even the Catholic Church, the bill marks a low point in the support of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party. The bill was voted down in the Polish parliament by a wide margin: 352 to 58, according to the BBC.
The vote came on the heels of mass demonstrations in cities across Poland by women appealing to the ruling party to oppose the bill. According to The Guardian, an estimated 30,000 women alone gathered in Warsaw’s Castle Square to protest the legislation, many wearing black, and chanting slogans such as, “We want doctors, not missionaries!”
The law would have all but outlawed the procedure in a country that already has one of the strictest abortion laws in Europe. Currently, women are allowed to terminate a pregnancy only if the pregnancy is due to rape or incest, or if the woman’s life is at stake, according to the Wall Street Journal. The proposed legislation would have removed those two exceptions and sentenced a woman receiving an abortion to five years in prison. Her doctor would also be sentenced to prison.
Doctors especially opposed the portion that would make them liable for the death of the fetus. Romuald Debski, a doctor in Warsaw, was quoted by The Washington Post as saying: “If I have a patient with preeclampsia [a pregnancy disorder characterized by high blood pressure], who is 32 weeks pregnant, I will have to let her and her child die. I have to, because if I perform a Cesarean section and the child dies, I may go to prison for three years, because the child was premature.”
Initially, the Catholic Church supported the bill. However, according to the BBC, the Church revoked its support in response to the bill’s provision to jail women who illegally terminated their pregnancy. For one of the most religious nations in Europe, the withdrawal was a devastating loss of support.
The bill was not introduced by lawmakers but rather by a provision that allows a petition with more than 100,000 signatures to be submitted to parliament as a bill.
Following the protests, Poland’s prime minister, Beata Szydlo, who initially seemed to support the bill, backtracked and affirmed that the government had no intention of making current abortion laws stricter.
Although the party as a whole has claimed to have washed its hands of the bill, many consider that the party originally supported the bill since it unanimously supported the legislation in a preliminary vote that sent it forward to a parliamentary review committee. It also rejected a second proposal that would liberalize Poland’s laws on the matter, submitted by the pro-choice Save Women coalition.
USA Today reported that the group that initiated the proposal, Stop Abortion, claimed lawmakers betrayed their voters. Mariusz Dzierzawski, a member of the organization, hoped for a return to the commission level, but was not overly optimistic. Nevertheless, he mourned the bill’s failure, saying, “Murdered children lost.”
By James Mayfield