Many of the recent protests are inspired by the success of the huge crowd that gathered on October 3, 2016, when the Polish parliament was debating a bill that would ban abortion in all cases except when the mother`s life is threatened. The bill provides for prison sentences for women and doctors. The bill initially enjoyed strong support, but three days before the vote, women`s rights groups staged what is now considered one of the largest protests in the country`s history. The women who participated in the protests – called “black protests” or Black Monday – planned to skip the job and wear it all in black. The approach was inspired by similar protests among Icelandic women in October 1975, when about 90% of women refused to work or do housework to denounce wage gaps and unfair employment practices in the country. A day before Black Monday in Poland, a video circulated of women in Iceland expressing their support for the Polish protests. In intermittent rallies across the country, from the court`s verdict on October 22, 2020, to 2021, when the verdict went into effect, police dispersed protesters with batons, pepper spray and tear gas. Since January 27, 2021, abortion is only legal in cases: Since then, access to abortion has continued to decline, although the trend has also led to a vocal movement in favor of abortion and women`s rights, including the Abortion Dream Team. “The anti-abortion coalition in the United States is basically the same as the anti-abortion coalition in Poland,” said Agnieszka Graff-Osser, a Polish writer and feminist activist who works at Warsaw University`s Center for American Studies. She added: “It`s the same movement, the same strategy.” Estimates vary in the number of illegal abortions performed each year.
The Federation for Women and Family Planning [pl], a feminist NGO, claims a range of between 80,000 and 200,000 abortions, and about a quarter of all Polish women have terminated a pregnancy. The voting center has the same estimate. A poll conducted during the first week of Polish protests from October to November 2020 found that 22% of respondents support abortion on demand up to the 12th week of pregnancy, 62% support it only in certain circumstances, 11% support the complete illegality of abortion, while 5% are undecided.  Poland is one of the few countries in the world where abortion has been widely banned since the 1990s after decades of liberalized permissive legislation during the Communist People`s Republic of Poland.  In 2010, about 10-15% of abortions on Polish pregnant women had to be performed in their own country outside Poland due to strict restrictions.  Poland`s abortion law is also one of the most restrictive in the European Union (EU) and Europe in general, along with a group of other traditionally Catholic countries in the region (e.g. Malta, Liechtenstein, the Vatican, Monaco and Andorra).  Only two developed countries have regained the right to abortion in the 21st century: the United States and Poland. As Americans grapple with the possible end of the constitutional right to abortion, the story of Poland`s 90-year struggle for abortion shows what the end of that right might look like. PIP: Poland`s 1956 abortion law allowed abortion on demand without state oversight or reporting mechanisms. It is estimated that this Liberal law led to 400,000 abortions in 1962 alone. After the end of the communist regime, a new law was adopted in March 1993 to ensure the legal protection of “fathered children”.
This law allowed abortion only if the pregnancy posed a threat to the life or a serious threat to the health of the mother, if the fetus was irreversibly damaged, or if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. Opponents of the law predicted that it would lead to prosecutions of large numbers of women and have a negative impact on maternal mortality. So far, however, there have been few court cases and maternal mortality is declining. The discussion surrounding this new law has led to a growing awareness that the fetus is a human being rather than a mass of tissue. Interest in modern contraceptive methods is also growing. Opinion polls show that most Poles support abortion only in cases provided for by law and that only 42% of respondents also support the possibility of abortion for social reasons. However, a law adopted in October 1996 allows women to request an abortion for social reasons after consultation and waiting period. In July, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) announced that it would examine complaints filed by Polish women who may be victims of violations of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms following the Constitutional Court`s ruling on abortion. The Polish government has failed to effectively implement previous ECHR judgments on access to legal abortion, despite repeated calls and a March ruling by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Women`s rights organizations and parliamentarians from the opposition Lewica party are collecting signatures for a citizens` initiative law “Legal abortion without compromise,” which would allow abortion without restriction of reason up to the twelfth week of pregnancy. It would allow an abortion at 12 weeks if the person`s mental or physical health is at risk, if there is an unviable pregnancy, or a pregnancy as a result of rape or incest.
A 2013 CBOS survey found that 75% of Poles think abortion “is always bad and can never be justified.” Only 7% felt that “there is nothing wrong with this and can always be justified.”  Kaja attended an online forum for women seeking abortions in Poland and was referred to Dr. Janusz Rudzinski, a Polish doctor who has been practicing in Germany for over 35 years. Kaja called Rudzinski – known for taking calls from women at any time of the day – and told him to come to his clinic in Prenzlau. Despite her pain, Kaja crossed the border about 200 miles from her village in Poland at Rudzinski`s clinic. Pregnant Jewish prisoners were also forced to have abortions in the Ravensbrück and Waltrop-Holthausen concentration camps. The Nazis had no ethical problems with abortion – as long as it was done on what they thought were the right people. (The Polish anti-abortion movement used this story with posters juxtaposing Hitler`s face with the image of an aborted fetus.) Poland already had some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, and about 1,000 legal abortions are performed each year. The outside of the hospital, where about 20 Polish women travel every week to have abortions. They also plan to commemorate several pregnant women who are known to have died since the court decision in Poland after doctors refused to abort them. One death resulted in criminal charges against the doctors.
But Kacpura says abortion rights advocates in Poland plan to continue challenging the government`s position. “They`re afraid of us,” she says. “Solidarity is our main weapon.” Kaja Godek, Polish Life and Family Foundation: Basically, this means that as soon as you cross the border, you are safe from war, and so are your children. And if someone pushes you to have an abortion, you have to call the police. “In practice, it takes weeks, sometimes months” to obtain a legal abortion, said Karolina Wieckiewicz, a lawyer and activist with the group Abortion Without Borders (Polish: Aborcja bez granic). “Some people decide to risk the battle in Poland; Others are looking for alternatives. Poland, home to about 20 million women and girls, has the lowest official abortion rate in the European Union. Then, in 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, and with it the Polish communist regime. As political and intellectual freedom expanded, reproductive rights returned to the “norm” of the pre-war period, and abortion was effectively pushed underground – or abroad, for those who could afford it – due to the powerful influence of the Catholic Church. (More than 85% of Poles identify as Catholic, the highest percentage of any European country.) Wroblewski is part of the ruling Law and Justice party, which won a majority in the Polish parliament with its stance against abortion rights. Dr. Janusz Rudzinski is on the phone with a woman who wants an abortion when he performs the procedure in March 2017 in Prenzlau.
The anti-abortion ruling was issued by the country`s politically compromised Constitutional Court, which concluded that abortion was unconstitutional due to “severe and irreversible fetal malformations or an incurable life-threatening disease.” The court approved the withdrawal of abortion after the executive branch failed to get it passed by parliament. On 3 October 2016, thousands of Polish women went on strike to protest against the bill to ban abortion completely. The event was called “Czarny Poniedziałek” (“Black Monday”) and was initially suggested in a Facebook post by Polish actress Krystyna Janda.   The women modeled their strike on the successful women`s rights strike in Iceland in 1975 and refused to go to school, work, or participate in household chores.  Pro-abortion protesters marched in Warsaw, Gdansk, Łódź, Wroclaw, and Krakow, and demonstrators across Europe marched in solidarity.  Some 98,000 protesters turned out to denounce the new law.   Supporters of the new law organized counter-demonstrations and Catholic masses to express support for the abortion ban.  Federa, a Polish reproductive health and rights organization, reported conducting approximately 8,100 consultations in the 11 months following the decision, 3 times more than in the same period in previous years.