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Thousands of women in Poland and across Europe wore black and skipped work on Monday to protest a proposed law that would ban abortions under all circumstances, making the procedure a crime punishable by five years in prison.
Abortions are already illegal in Poland except in cases of rape or incest, a major fetal deformity, or a severe threat to the pregnant woman’s health. Under these circumstances, less than 2,000 legal abortions are performed each year in the country of more than 38 million, while tens of thousands of women get unsafe, illegal abortions at home or travel across borders for the procedure.
Strike organizers anticipated that up to 6 million women would participate in demonstrations on Monday, though reported numbers at individual demonstrations vary. Protesters at so-called “Black Monday” events are sending clothes hangers to Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and wearing black; counterprotesters that support the proposed ban are wearing white. A Newsweek Polska poll found that 74 percent of Polish residents support the existing abortion law and do not think it needs further restrictions.
“My mother is very Catholic, goes to church every Sunday, and is against abortion just because you might not want the child,” one strike supporter told the Guardian. “But she is against this law, because if a woman is raped, she will be treated worse than the man who raped her.”
The Catholic Church, which has a strong presence in Poland, supports the proposed total abortion ban, as does the conservative Law and Justice party (PiS), which is currently in power. But the bill came before parliament through a petition circulated by a right-wing activist organization; once it got more than 100,000 signatures, it was eligible for legislative consideration. On September 23, the parliament voted for the proposal to go before a committee, the last step before approval. Another PiS-backed bill currently under consideration would attack in vitro fertilization by prohibiting the freezing of embryos and making it illegal to fertilize multiple eggs at one time.