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Poland moves to ban abortion and criminalize sexual education

Polish women march in Warsaw to protest against an abortion ban

Warsaw, Poland – Lawmakers in Poland will discuss this week two bills that could introduce a de-facto ban on abortion and criminalize sex education.

Both proposals are citizens’ legislative initiatives which, under Polish law, have to be submitted to Parliament after receiving at least 100,000 signatures.

Is Poland on the verge of banning abortion?

The first legislative proposal would ban abortions due to congenital defects of the foetus, which accounts for approximately 98% of all legal abortions in Poland. Outlawing it would thus introduce a de-facto ban on the vast majority of pregnancy terminations.

Leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party Jaroslaw Kaczynski has already expressed his support for the bill, along with a number of other PiS lawmakers.

President Andrzej Duda has also vowed to sign such a bill into law, saying he was “a strong opponent of eugenic abortion, killing children with disabilities” and claiming that abortions on the grounds of foetus malformations are “simply murder”.

This is not the first time the ruling party attempts to limit women’s ability to get an abortion. Although Poland already has one of the toughest abortion laws in Europe, PiS has, since coming to power in 2015, tried to implement a near-total ban, sparking mass protests and so-called “Black Friday” women marches that forced the government to backtrack.

Public opinion split, but leaning towards liberalization of abortion

Supported by hard-line conservative groups, the proposals sparked outrage among local activists and international rights groups who warned that a ban on legal abortions would put the health of countless women at risk. Compared to roughly 1,000 legal abortions, analysts estimate that tens of thousands of pregnancies are illegally terminated in Poland every year – sometimes in dangerous and unsanitary conditions – while many Polish women also decide to travel abroad, including to Germany, to have an abortion.

A survey found that the topic remains highly contentious in Poland, with over 40% of Poles supporting the current status quo, while 15% of respondents backed a total ban on abortion and more than one third in favour of liberalizing the current law, adopted in 1993 and which allows terminating pregnancies in three cases: when the mother’s health is at risk, when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, and in case of fetal abnormality. A more recent opinion poll found that more than half of Poles believed women should have the right to have an abortion up to the 12th week.

Sexual education in the spotlight

The second so-called “anti-pedophilia” bill, which was already discussed in Parliament last year, would ban and criminalize any attempt to spread sexual education to children in Poland.

The European Parliament passed a resolution last November condemning the “alarming, misguided and detrimental” law and warning that the lack of education regarding sexuality and sexual reproduction “puts the safety and well-being of young people at risk”.

After Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski signed in February last year an “LGBT declaration” pledging, among other things, to introduce sexual education classes in line with the World Health Organization’s guidelines, the topic has taken center stage and divided public opinion, with conservative critics often likening sex education classes to the “LGBT ideology” and its attempt to “morally corrupt” Poland’s youth.

“The sexualisation of children must be fought and defeated”, Poland’s de-facto leader Kaczynski said, labeling it as a “civilizational threat to all of Europe”.

Although allegedly meant to combat pedophilia and sexual abuse against children, critics fear the law, that could punish anyone who “propagate or approve of engagement by minors in sexual intercourse or other sexual activity”, could be used to prosecute and jail – for up to 3 years – anyone who teaches sexual education, further restricting young people’s knowledge of a topic already barely taught and talked about.

Main photo credit: Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

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