Fundamentalists, led by activist Kaja Godek forced the Social Policy and Family Committee of the Polish parliament to debate the repressive “Stop abortion” bill on 2 July 2018. This bill aimed to criminalise abortions on grounds of fetal impairment, which under the existing narrow law make up 95% of all legal abortions carried out in Polish hospitals. The decision to hold this debate was a surprise, because the Committee had previously said it would not deal with this bill in the foreseeable future. Moreover, Godek announced the debate would take place before it was announced on the Parliament’s website and before members of the parliament were informed it was on the Committee’s agenda.
Since March this year, anti-choice groups had been lobbying for this ban and accused the ruling Law and Justice Party of treachery and reluctance to support it. They also put pressure on the Committee’s chairperson. But the Committee also received a lot of criticism of the bill from the parliamentary Bureau of Research, Supreme Bar Council, Amnesty International Poland, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning, and solidarity statements from UN human rights experts, a group of MEPs, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, International Women’s Health Coalition, Worldwide Human Rights Movement and over 200 NGOs from across the globe (more here).
On 29 June, the International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion wrote to the Committee’s members: “We are writing to urge you to drop this vicious, anti-women, anti-abortion bill. It will not stop abortions, it will not save babies who could not survive on their own no matter what you seek to dictate, and it is dangerous for women. Dangerous for their lives and health and destructive of their well-being. We cannot understand why you hate women so much, or why you want to punish them so cruelly.
Most women become mothers in their lifetimes, but women are not baby machines who push babies, one after the other, out into the world without any thought or caring what happens to them. That is why women resort to abortion – when they are unable to commit to another baby, which is a lifetime commitment. One in four women across the world has an abortion in her lifetime. It is a normal part of women’s lives, including in Poland and including in your own families.
What would you do if women started leaving babies on your doorstep, as women did in the past? Would you open your arms to an endless number of babies? That is what you are asking women to do, care for an endless number of babies. What is your actual day-to-day commitment to children compared to most of your countrywomen, and do you not have a limit of how many children you would be willing to look after, in sickness as well as in health?
Your anti-abortion bill doesn’t give a damn about children, it’s an expression of hatred of women. Stop punishing women. #StopTheBan”
On 2 July, the Monday protest by hundreds of activists took place in front of the parliament in Warsaw while the Committee was meeting, organised by the Polish Women’s Strike and the Warsaw Women’s Strike. The Federation for Women and Family also launched a mailing action so that members of the Committee would be aware of the strong social opposition to the bill.
After half an hour of deliberation, the bill was directed to a sub-committee, which is commonly understood as a “legislative freezer”.