On Monday, 100,000 Polish women took to the streets to protest a petition, being debated by the Polish parliament, which would completely outlaw abortion, and make it a criminal offence carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison.
At present, only five countries – Ireland, Northern Ireland, San Marino, Liechtenstein and Andorra – have a more restrictive approach to abortion than Poland, which currently only allows women to terminate a pregnancy in cases of rape or incest, when the woman’s life is in danger, or if the fetus is severely damaged. Under these new proposals, even a miscarriage would be grounds for a criminal investigation.
Polish women have refused to take this lying down. On Monday, there were strikes and demonstrations in cities across the country, with women wearing black to mourn the potential loss of what few reproductive rights they have. In a heartening demonstration of what protest can achieve, the Polish parliament buckled and today voted down the proposal 352-58.
However, the resurgence of the anti-choicers isn’t just confined to Poland. Women across Eastern Europe, notably in Hungary, face further restrictions on their reproductive rights. People in Berlin, Brussels, Dusseldorf, Belfast, Paris and London also protested on Monday – not simply to show solidarity with Polish women, but to protest the anti-choice restrictions in their own countries. After all, in our own green and pleasant land, abortion is still a criminal matter, and women have to obtain the permission of two doctors in order to undergo the procedure.
But the perilous state of reproductive rights in Poland deserves particular attention. Not least because it neatly demonstrates the anachronistic sentiments that inform the anti-choice movement more broadly.