ASTRA Central and Eastern European Women’s Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health

Oct 07 2016

On Friday, September 23rd, the Polish Sejm sent to further proceedings draft legislation aiming to introduce a total ban on abortion and criminalize women for terminating pregnancies with up to 5 years of prison. Women and doctors could face prison if convicted of causing what the proposed bill called "death of a conceived child". Moreover doctors would be discouraged from doing prenatal testing, particularly if that carried the risk of miscarriage.

Major mobilization among Polish women and civil society organizations resulted in a “black protest” (#czarnyprotest). Launched on the day of the reading of both bills it became a leading theme of Polish women’s fight for abortion rights.

The culmination of women’s solidarity and mobilization was October 3rd when women went on a strike – did not go to work, schools, took a day off and went to protest in the streets in Warsaw and other cities in Poland. In total 100 000 people protested against the total abortion ban in 143 locations in the country. This mass mobilization caught great interest in international media and was widely captured via social media with #czarnyprotest, #strajkkobiet, #solidaritywithpolishwomen (Reuters, Buzzfeed, Independent). Supporters of Polish women protested in cities across Europe – i.e. in Paris, Oslo, Berlin.

On Wednesday afternoon the Senate announced a stop their proceedings  on their proposal on a “compromise” to the proposed abortion ban and claimed that protests against the bill had given ministers "food for thought". They also assured that Poland will not criminalize women nor ban abortion in case of rape or incest and in situations when the pregnancy is risk to women's health and/or life

Around 6 pm on the same day the Commission for Justice and Human Right held a session and recommended the Parliament to reject the “Stop Abortion bill”. This caused a lot of criticism as the meeting was not planned in advance hence a second reading of the bill took place very late at night. On Thursday morning the process ended with the dismissal of this bill with a majority of 352 votes. 58 MPs were in favour of further proceedings, 18 abstained from vote. Beata Szydło, Polish Prime Minister, announced a future bill that will support all women experiencing so called "difficult pregnancies". She also announced the creation of a programme of support for families raising children with disabilities and start of a national campaign in support of “pro-life” values.

On Wednesday, October 5th, the European Parliament held a debate on the situation in Poland, initiated by ALDE Group – Liberals and Democrats and Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament.

This is a won battle - so far. We are certain that the anti-choice groups and the Catholic Church will not step down this easily and another anti-choice bill banning abortion in all cases (but not criminalizing women) is already pending for further proceedings. The ruling Law and Justice party also announced their readiness to start working on their own bill which will ban abortion in case of fetal damage. The Catholic Church announced that they do not approve of criminalizing women and put a green light for further attempts to ban abortion in case of fetal damage. This may be another battle we will have to face, together with attempts to restrict access to emergency contraception.

The current law on abortion in Poland, even more restrictive in practice than in theory, the so called "abortion compromise", is too not a solution to realisation of women's reproductive rights. The series of ongoing protests which began in early April this year were a chance to advocate for liberalisation of the law (see the "Save the Women" civic proposal) - the only real option to ensure women's sexual and reproductive health and rights and their human rights.

This victory on abortion has empowered Polish women – we’ll never be the same said Krystyna Kacpura, Executive Director of the Federation for Women and Family Planning to the Guardian. Years of pro-choice advocacy, public mobilization, grassroots work, women’s solidarity and working across movements and various groups has given fruits which can make a change.


Sep 29 2016

Just this month the Armenian Government introduced several changes in the law on abortion without any consultations with civil society and other medical or women’s groups. Abortion remains accessible until the 12th week yet a separate provision is added to the Article 10 of the Law on Reproductive Health and Rights, which bans sex-selective abortion from 12th to 22nd week of pregnancy. A mandatory 3 day waiting period had been added in the same Article. During this time a gynecologists will provide the woman with information on abortion.

The approach of the Armenian Ministry of Health is quite worrying as one of its representatives confidently stated that the Ministry aims to prevent women from performng abortions with the use of this new 3 day waiting period.  At the same time the Ministry claims that these new legal changes will not question the right and access to legal abortion.

The Women’s Resource Center published a statement on the issue, it is available here.

Changes in the law accepted on 29.06.2016, in Armenian, can be found under this link.

Source: Women’s Rights Center, Women’s Resource Center, Society Without Violence

Sep 28 2016

On the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion the Sexual Rights Initiative is holding a panel discussion in Geneva during the 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council at 1PM, Room XXVII. The event is sponsored by the Permament Mission of the Republic of Slovenia in Geneva.

The panel will share different country experiences of advocating for safe and legal abortion, highlight the human rights obligations of States to provide access to safe and legal abortion, and discuss opportunities to utilize HRC mechanisms to effect policy and legal changes at the national level.

Among the speakers is Krystyna Kacpura, Federation for Women and Family Planning.

See the poster HERE.

Sep 28 2016

Speaking ahead of the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, a group of United Nations human rights experts* called on States across the world to repeal restrictive abortion laws and policies, and all punitive measures and discriminatory barriers to access safe reproductive health services.

The experts also expressed their support for the call of several non-governmental organisations to make 28 September an official UN day for safe abortion worldwide, to urge Governments to decriminalise abortion and provide reproductive health services in a legal, safe and affordable manner.

See more HERE
Sep 23 2016

Two bills on abortion, both submitted through citizen's petitions, were debated in the Sejm, the Polish parliament, yesterday afternoon and evening. Today, a vote was taken on both of them. The first, entitled the "Stop Abortion" bill, introduced a total ban on all abortions without exceptions and would criminalise women who have an abortion with sentences of up to five years. with no exception. Additionally it proposes criminalization of women who committed abortion illegally up to five years. The bill would stop antenatal screening and sexuality education. It equates women’s right to health with the rights of embryos. Polish women will be forced to give birth even if they are victims of rape, have a serious fetal abnormality and even when their health and lives are at risk. Today, it was passed at first reading and was sent for further consideration to a parliamentary commission, following support from 267 MPs. 154 MPs voted against and 11 abstained.

The second bill, entitled "Save the Women" proposed to liberalise the current, already highly restrictive, law on abortion. It would permit abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy. Additionally, it called for sexuality education, broad access to modern contraception reimbursed by the state, antenatal screening and other elements of reproductive health care. It was defeated by a majority vote on the first reading by 230 MPs, while 173 MPs voted to send the bill to a commission, and 15 abstained.

Last week there was a major national demonstration against the Stop Abortion bill, in which thousands participated. For further background, read this.

In the days leading up to the vote, on social media people in Poland sent photos of themselves dressed in black, as a statement of protest. See a sample of photos here.

Krystyna Kacpura, Executive Director, Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning, said today: "The discussion in Parliament regarding these bills was outrageous. Certain members of Parliament claimed that Poland will be the beginning of a new pro-life civilization. They expect that other countries will follow. Women’s rights have been completely rejected and held in contempt by them."

Additionally, the Sejm also sent to further proceedings draft legislation practically eliminating in vitro procedure.

The text was edited with the help of International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion

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