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#BlackMonday: Hundreds of thousands of women strike against Polish abortion ban

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Thousands upon thousands of women marched through the streets of Poland on Monday 3 October to protest against proposals for a total ban on abortions.

They boycotted their jobs, their classes, and more to join the strike, wearing black and waving black flags as a sign of mourning for their reproductive rights.

The pro-choice march has since been dubbed "Black Monday".


Read more: Abortion - the unheard stories and voices


In the capital city of Warsaw alone, there were 25,000 women declaring their opposition to the bill.

They also marched in Gdansk, Lodz, Bialystok, Wroclaw, Posnan, Krakow, Lublin, and other cities and towns across the mostly Catholic nation.

Demonstrations were also held in solidarity in other European cities, including Berlin, Brussels, Dusseldorf, Belfast, London and Paris.

Poland, a largely Catholic nation, already has one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws, with terminations already banned under most circumstances.

The current exceptions are when the life of the foetus is under threat; when there is a grave threat to the health of the mother; and where the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest (this must be confirmed by a prosecutor).

However, if the proposed ban on terminations were to be enacted, all abortions would become criminalised, with women punishable with up to five years in prison.

Any doctor who carries out or assists an abortion will also be liable for time in prison. 


Read more: Woman shares powerful teen abortion story in a bid to change termination laws


Critics say that, if the total ban is introduced, women who have a miscarriage would also be likely to be investigated, on suspicion of having terminated the pregnancy deliberately.

Speaking about the #BlackMonday protest, which has been likened to a women’s strike in Iceland in 1975, Marta Szostak of ASTRA, the Central and Eastern European Women’s Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health, said: “I have no idea who started it.”

Szostak continued to tell Buzzfeed: “It was not an NGO. It was not a person who’s been fighting for women’s rights to abortion for many years.
 
“What’s happening now is more a civil movement, a grassroots movement — because women are very furious. They’re very scared.”


Read more: The stigma of having an abortion in later life


She added: “It has never happened in my life to see that large amount of women going to the streets fighting for reproductive rights.”

The proposal for the stricter law came from an anti-abortion citizens' initiative that had gathered just 450,000 signatures in a nation of 38 million; it is supported by the church.

Reacting to the protests, the Polish Bishops' Conference asked Catholics to pray for "the conscience and the light of the Holy Spirit on all Poles who protect human life from conception to natural death".

Meanwhile, while Polish women are striking for their right to have control over their own bodies, the country’s foreign minister has publicly criticised them for doing so.

Speaking to Associated Press, Witold Waszczykowski said: “We expect serious debate on questions of life, death and birth.

“We do not expect happenings, dressing in costumes and creating artificial problems.”

Waszczykowski is a member of the conservative ruling party, Law and Justice, which has a majority in parliament.

However, while the party is made up of a number of supporters of the proposal, it remains unclear as to whether there are enough to push it through.


Read more: These women are demanding to be prosecuted for taking abortion pills


The European Parliament (EP) is scheduled to debate the law in a session on Wednesday. 

If the ban is pushed through, Poland’s abortion laws will be made as restrictive as those in Malta and the Vatican.

However research indicates that banning abortion does not stop the practice – it simply forces women to turn to more dangerous methods.

According to the World Health Organization, about 22 million unsafe abortions are performed every year – and, even under their current laws, Poland sees far more illegal abortions than legal ones, with between 10,000 and 150,000, compared to about 1,000 or 2,000 legal terminations.

“Liberal abortion laws tend to be found in countries with better sex education and better access to contraception, so it makes perfect sense for those countries also to have lower abortion rates than countries without those things,” Dr Sally Sheldon, a law professor at Kent Law School specializing in gender, told Broadly in January 2016. 


Read more: Caitlin Moran has her say on sexist abortion laws


She added: "Where there are restrictive laws, women will still do that but they will have less good access to safe abortion.

“Those who are serious about reducing abortion rates need to focus on reducing rates of unwanted pregnancy. The technology for very safe, very effective abortions already exists— particularly in the form of abortion pills. What needs to be done is to make sure that women can access it (and accurate information).

“The removal of restrictive laws is part of that process."

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