BY: AISHA ILYAD
“My body, my right.”
This was the slogan of Polish Women who went on strike in protest against proposals for a total ban on abortion in their country. These anti-abortion protestors took to the streets of Warsaw on Monday Oct 3 wearing black as a sign of mourning for their reproductive rights. The day has been dubbed as “Black Monday”.
Women who oppose the ban threatened to stay away from work and school and refused to do domestic chores, in a protest inspired by a women’s strike in Iceland in 1975.
According to reports the anti-abortion protests were also being held in Gdansk, Lodz, Wroclaw, Krakow and elsewhere in the mostly Catholic nation. Berlin, Brussels, Dusseldorf, Belfast, London and Paris residents also expressed their solidarity with polish women by protesting in their respected cities. Hashtags of #CzarnyProtest and #BlackMonday were widely visible in social media.
On Thursday Oct 6, Poland’s parliament rejected an abortion ban, due to the massive protests that occurred only a few days before.
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.
But even by conservative estimates there are far more illegal abortions than legal ones in Poland – between 10,000 and 150,000, compared to about 1,000 or 2,000 legal terminations.
The proposed bill suggested that abortions should only be permitted if the health of the mother is at risk. The 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 would also face imprisonment. Critics raised concerns that the near-total ban could result in women who suffer a miscarriage also being investigated on suspicion of having an abortion.
The rejected bill is a huge victory for women in Poland, and across the world. According to The Guardian, Jarosław Gowin, the minister of science and higher education, said that the protests had “caused us to think and taught us humility”.
The Guardian also stated that “the “black protests” appear to have shifted public opinion on the issue, with recent polls suggesting not only near-overwhelming opposition to the proposed ban, but increasing support for the liberalisation of existing laws.”
What are abortion laws like in other parts of the world? Let’s have a look:
There are no international or multinational treaties that deal directly with abortion, but human rights law touches on the issues. In 2005 the United Nations Human Rights Committee ordered Peru to compensate a woman for denying her a medically indicated abortion; this was the first time a United Nations Committee had held any country accountable for not ensuring access to safe, legal abortion, and the first time the committee affirmed that abortion is a human right.
Nationwide while abortions are legal in most countries, the grounds on which they are permitted vary. According to the United Nations publication World Abortion Policies 2011, abortion is allowed in most countries (97 percent) in order to save a woman’s life. Other commonly-accepted reasons are preserving physical (67 percent) or mental health (63 percent). Abortion in the case of rape or incest is accepted in about half of all countries (49 percent), and performing them because of economic or social reasons in about a third (34 percent). Performing abortion on the basis of a woman’s request is allowed in only 29 percent of all countries.
Abortion has always been as controversial issue. Many governments struggle to strike a balance between the rights of pregnant women and the rights of unborn fetuses, which often leads to complex policies governing when and under what circumstances a woman may legally have an abortion.
Since 1988, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that existing abortion restrictions were unconstitutional, abortion has been legal for any reason at any stage of pregnancy. Provincial health insurance plans cover the cost of abortions performed in hospitals but do not consistently provide funding for abortions performed in free-standing clinics.
Access to abortion services in Mexico varies from state to state. Some states allow abortion only in instances when the mother’s life or physical health is at stake, in pregnancies involving possible fetal abnormalities or in cases of rape. In April 2007, however, Mexico City became the first municipality to legalize abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (the first trimester).
Abortion is legal in Brazil only in cases of rape or incest or when the mother’s life is in danger. Under federal regulation, hospitals require a formal determination that a pregnancy has resulted from rape or incest before performing an abortion.
In 1967, the Chilean Health Code formally legalized abortion when it was necessary to save the mother’s life. The measure was reversed in 1989 by then-President Augusto Pinochet, who made abortion illegal in all circumstances. Pinochet’s law is still in effect.
Abortion was illegal in all circumstances until May 2006, when Colombia’s highest court ruled that the procedure can be performed in cases in which the mother’s life or physical health is in danger, in cases of rape or incest, or in pregnancies involving fatal or life-threatening fetal abnormalities.
Although a 1995 law makes abortion illegal, neither doctors nor women are prosecuted if the mother is a victim of rape and the procedure is performed within 12 weeks of conception.
Abortion is freely available in Great Britain due to a broad interpretation of the Abortion Act of 1967, which permits abortion for a variety of reasons if certified by two physicians. Within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, these reasons may include: to save the life of the mother, to protect her physical or mental health, to terminate pregnancies involving fetal abnormality, or for social or economic reasons.
Abortions are legal up to 12 weeks gestation, but only if the woman is judged by her doctor to be in a ‘state of distress because of her pregnancy’. After 12 weeks, an abortion can only be carried out if the continuation of the pregnancy poses a serious risk to the health of the mother.
Since 1986, abortion has been freely available in Greece during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. In cases involving a minor, or in instances of rape or incest, the procedure is legal through the 19th week of pregnancy. Abortions also can be obtained through the 24th week of pregnancy in cases of fetal abnormality. Despite liberal abortion laws, the advertising of abortion services is illegal.
The Offenses against the Person Act of 1861 banned abortion in all circumstances. Later court decisions established an exception to save the mother’s life. In 1983, a constitutional amendment strengthened the country’s abortion restrictions by establishing a fetus’s right to life, equating it with a woman’s right to life.
Abortion law in Spain legalizes the procedure at any point during pregnancy in cases in which the mother’s life or physical or mental health is at risk. Abortion is also allowed within 12 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape and within 22 weeks of pregnancy in cases of fetal impairment.
Since 1974, abortion has been legal in Sweden in all circumstances within the first 18 weeks of pregnancy.
According to a law passed in 1993, abortion is legal in Poland throughout pregnancy to preserve the life or physical health of the mother. During the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, abortion is also allowed in circumstances of rape, incest or fetal abnormality.
Russia reportedly leads the world in the total number of abortions performed each year, which currently exceeds the country’s annual number of live births. Abortion is freely available during the first 12 weeks of gestation as well as at any point during the pregnancy in cases involving a risk to the life or health of the mother or severe fetal abnormalities.
Abortion is legal in Nigeria only to preserve the mother’s life.
Since 1996, abortion has been available without restrictions in South Africa within the first trimester of pregnancy if the mother’s physical or mental health is at risk, if the pregnancy compromises the mother’s social or economic situation, or if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.
The Egyptian Penal Code of 1937 bans abortion in all circumstances, but criminal law allows flexibility on grounds of “necessity.”
Abortion has been illegal in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Although there are no explicit exceptions to this prohibition. Iranian law generally allows acts that are performed to save the life of a person.
A 1977 law made abortion legal in Israel to save the mother’s life or to preserve her mental or physical health. Abortion is also allowed in cases of rape, incest or fetal impairment, as well as in cases involving a wide range of difficult social circumstances. All abortions must be authorized by a medical committee composed of a social worker and two physicians.
A 1983 law makes abortion legal in Turkey in all circumstances within 10 weeks of pregnancy. After 10 weeks, abortion is legal if the mother’s life is at risk, if her physical or mental health is in danger or if her pregnancy involves fetal abnormalities.
Abortion is illegal in Afghanistan, except when necessary to save a mother’s life.
Abortion is virtually freely available in China, and there are no defined time limits for access to the procedure. Although sex-selective abortion is prohibited, critics say that China’s one-child-per-family policy encourages the widespread abortion of female fetuses by couples intent on having a son.
Abortion is available in India during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy in cases in which the mother’s life or physical or mental health is at risk, in cases of rape or fetal abnormality, or for social or economic reasons. However, to obtain an abortion two medical practitioners must agree that the procedure is necessary.
In 1996, legislation established regulations making abortion legal within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy to save the mother’s life or to protect her physical health. Abortion is also allowed in cases of rape and for economic or social reasons.
Abortion has been illegal in the Philippines since 1930, when it was first criminalized. The only acceptable reason for an abortion is when the mother’s life is in danger, in which case permission for the abortion must be obtained from a board of medical professionals.