Polish women protest possible abortion ban, wearing black to mourn reproductive rights

Poland’s ultra-strict abortion laws might get even worse — but not if its women have anything to say about it. Thousands of women in Poland have gone on strike to protest a proposed total ban on abortions, under which getting an abortion could warrant five years in prison. Protesters in Warsaw and throughout the country took to the streets, wearing black to symbolize the death of their reproductive rights. Some even sent coat hangers to the Polish prime minister as a reminder of the health risks of the illegal abortions that women might seek out if abortions are wholly banned.

Currently, Poland prohibits abortion except in cases of rape or incest, severe fetal anomalies, or the mother’s life being endangered by pregnancy. As a result, the vast majority of Polish women who have abortions access them illegally or travel abroad to countries where abortion is legal.

The ambiguous wording of the proposed legislation, which focuses on “the death of the unborn child,” means that other reproductive issues besides abortion could put women at risk of imprisonment as well. As feminist commentator and activist Agnieszka Graff told The Guardian, “This could lead to incarceration for women who had miscarriages;” in other words, women could be punished for experiencing events over which they have no control.

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CREDIT: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

In addition to placing pregnant women at extreme risk, the proposed abortion ban could hinder doctors from providing adequate care for their patients. One doctor told Polish radio station TokFM that since the legislation imposes a three-year prison sentence for causing the death of an unborn child, “If I have a patient with pre-eclampsia, who is 32 weeks pregnant, I will have to let her and her child die … if I perform a caesarean section and the child dies, I may go to prison for three years.”

Despite the seriousness of the concerns raised, Poland’s government has not yet acknowledged the strike as a valid protest. In a particularly egregious example, Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said during an interview on Polish radio station RMF-FM, “Let them have their fun. There is no such problem as a threat to women’s rights.”

Protesters are instead finding solidarity from fellow women and feminists of all genders across Europe. Women in several other European countries — including the Ukraine, Russia, France, Germany, Belgium, England, and Northern Ireland (whose abortion laws are even more draconian than Poland’s) — are organizing protests and social media campaigns in support of the strike. Even if the government isn’t listening, the people are making it clear: it’s time to stop persecuting women for wanting autonomy over their own bodies.