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Polish Government Drops Abortion Ban After Protests

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Under pressure from mass protests and strikes by women across the country, a Polish official said "there will not be a total abortion ban."

Abortions are already illegal in Poland, except in cases of rape, incest, damaged fetuses or if the mother's life is at risk, reports The Associated Press. The law in question would have criminalized abortion even in these cases, and was proposed after an anti-abortion petition of 450,000 signatures was delivered to the government.

The more restrictive abortion law would punish women seeking abortions and their doctors, with a prison term of up to five years, according to the Independent.

Elzbieta Korolczuk, professor of gender studies at Warsaw University, said that if the law were passed, then a woman who miscarried could be charged with "fetal murder" if she was unable to prove that she didn't induce the miscarriage herself, according to the National Catholic Reporter.

During the Oct. 3 protests, referred to as "Black Monday," thousands of women took to the streets, wearing dark clothes as a symbol of mourning over the possible loss of their reproductive rights, according to the Independent. The women boycotted work, and caused government offices, universities and schools in 60 cities to shut down for the day.

Protestors chanted, "We want doctors, not missionaries!" and, "A government is not like a pregnancy -- it can be terminated."

"I wanted to support all the women who may be hurt, who may be denied medical help and forced to have a disabled child," a 41-year-old protester told Reuters. "And I am doing it for my daughter."

The Polish government is also under international pressure to reconsider its treatment of women. A debate on the subject is scheduled to take place in the European Parliament on Oct. 5, AP reports. About 200 protesters picketed in front of the EU offices in Brussels in solidarity with Polish women, carrying banners that said, "No to the abortion ban," according to the Independent.

The protests have apparently succeeded in swaying some government officials. Jaroslaw Gowin, minister of science and higher education, told AP that the protests taught Poland's conservative leadership "humility."

Others, like foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski, weren't so moved.

"Let them have fun," he told Polish radio station of the protestors, according to the Independent. "They should go ahead if they think there are no bigger problems in Poland."

He dismissed the protest, saying that "happenings, dressing in costumes and creating artificial problems" is not conducive to a "serious debate on questions of life, death and birth."

Sources: The Associated Press via CTV News, The Independent, National Catholic Reporter / Photo credit: News25

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