The Polish parliament on Thursday overwhelmingly rejected a proposed bill that would have effectively banned abortion. The vote comes three days after tens of thousands of Polish women flooded town squares across the country to protest the measure.
The vote ended a short-lived attempt to all but eliminate access to abortion. Under the proposals, women suspected of having sought abortions, and medical personnel alleged to have aided them, could have received jail time. Critics say the ban also would have effectively criminalized miscarriage.
The parliament voted last week to send the bill to a legislative committee for consideration. That move sparked widespread protests on social media.
Then on Monday, an estimated 100,000 women — dressed all in black and fighting off rain — boycotted school, work and childcare duties to protest in the streets. Women, and some men, in several other global cities joined them in solidarity. Poland’s foreign minister initially scoffed at the protesters, saying, “Let them play.”
But the government’s tune changed drastically on Wednesday. Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin told Polish media that the #blackmonday protest “gave us food for thought and taught us humility.”
By Wednesday evening, the parliamentary committee holding the bill voted to recommend rejecting it. The bill was returned to parliament for a full floor vote on Thursday, where it was defeated by a margin of 352-58.
The European Parliament (EP) also took up the matter on Wednesday, with a floor debate about the proposed changes. The EP acknowledged it cannot formally legislate on the matter, but several members expressed concerns.
The draft bill would have tightened Poland’s abortion regulations, already among the strictest in Europe, by eliminating exceptions for rape and for fatal fetal abnormalities, and by narrowing an exception for saving the life of a mother to cases where a pregnant woman is in “immediate” fatal danger.
One day after the #blackmonday protests, Poland's ruling Law and Justice Party distanced itself from the bill. Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said at a Tuesday news conference that the party “was not working and is not working on any law that would change the currently binding regulations.”
The proposed changes were initially brought to parliament as a citizens’ initiative, rather than being introduced by any particular party. The initiative was backed by 450,000 signatures and heavily supported by the Catholic Church.