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Polish women strike against abortion ban

Warsaw, Oct 3, 2016 (AFP) 22:07 IST
A woman observes thousands of people during an abortion rights campaigners' demonstration to protest against plans for a total ban on abortion in front of the Royal Castle in Warsaw. Reuters Photo
Thousands of black-clad women protested across Poland today against a proposed near-total abortion ban in the devoutly Catholic country, where the law is already among the most restrictive in Europe.

Pro-choice activists used social media to launch the country-wide "Women strike" protest, urging women to stay away from work and school to attend street protests.

Around 2,000 people rallied outside the Warsaw headquarters of the governing rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party, forming a "wall of fury" human chain, an AFP journalist saw.

PiS lawmakers in late September pushed ahead with a controversial bill that would allow terminations only if the mother's life is at risk and increase the maximum jail term for practitioners from two years to five.

The citizen's initiative tabled in parliament by the Stop Abortion coalition would also make women who have terminations liable to prison terms, though judges could waive punishment in their case.

Poland's influential Catholic Church gave the initiative its seal of approval earlier this year, though its bishops have since opposed jailing women.

"I don't like what the Polish government is doing to women," protester Jolanta Bienicka told AFP.

"Unfortunately, we're going in the direction of countries like Afghanistan and the worst countries in the world."

Protester Katazyna Goluch, a 17-year-old high school student, told AFP that "no one has the right to decide what I am supposed to do with my uterus".

"If this law comes into effect and I'm raped and I get pregnant, I'll have to give birth. It's the same thing if the foetus is deformed, so we just have to say no."

Passed in 1993, the current law bans all terminations unless there was rape or incest, the pregnancy poses a health risk to the mother or the foetus is severely deformed.

A poll published this week by the Newsweek Polska magazine showed that 74 per cent of Poles want to keep the existing law.

The European Parliament is expected to debate women's rights in Poland on Wednesday.

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