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Poland

Women go on 'Black Monday' strike in Poland against abortion ban

Thousands of women have protested in the Polish capital against a proposed ban on abortion. The Catholic Church, which wields substantial power in Poland, has approved the initiative.

Women in Poland who oppose the government's proposed abortion ban took to the streets of Warsaw on Monday. Marching through the streets, the protesters went on strike from work and school and refused to do domestic chores at home. Wearing black as a symbol of mourning for the possible loss of reproductive rights, the women chanted: "We want doctors, not missionaries!"

Restaurants and government offices were closed down as a result of the demonstrations. The pro-choice march, inspired by a women's strike in Iceland in 1975, took place on what they're calling "Black Monday."

Protests were also due to take place in other cities outside the Polish capital.

Higher jail sentence

Poland already has one of Europe's most restrictive abortion laws. The current legislation, which was passed in 1993, prohibits a termination unless the woman's life is at risk, the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or if the fetus is badly damaged.

The governing Law and Justice (PiS) party has now suggested, however, that abortions should only be permitted if the health of the mother is at risk. The proposed bill also envisages increasing the maximum jail sentence for those who carry out abortions from two to five years. Doctors who have assisted in terminating a pregnancy could also face imprisonment.

Church approves bill

The Catholic Church, which exerts considerable power in Poland, has already approved the initiative. It is currently being examined by a parliamentary commission, with a vote not expected for a number of weeks. 

Surveys have shown that most Poles support the existing legislation on abortion, so adopting the bill could exacerbate already deepening social tensions within the country. Critics have also raised concerns that the near-total ban could result in women who suffer a miscarriage also being investigated on suspicion of having an abortion.

In a separate bill, the PiS also seeks to restrict in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment. Under the proposed legislation, only one egg could be fertilized at any one time and the freezing of embryos would be banned entirely.

ksb/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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