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The Great Patriotic War of Polish Women’s Rights – reproductive rights in Poland

Symbol kobiecych protestów przeciwko zapowiedziom restrykcyjnych zmian w prawie rozrodu-reproductive rights in Poland

Years of social progress for women in Poland have been blown away, just like that “click”!

The Parliament is working on two projects which are seriously impacting reproductive rights. After they are passed:

  • Only one oocyte can be fertilized during IVF,
  • Embryo freezing is banned,
  • An embryo can be cultivated for no longer than 72 hours,
  • An embryo is called “a conceived child” and gains all the rights of a living child,
  • Even unintentional embryo mishandling in a lab can send an embryologist to jail,
  • No export/import of gametes and embryos is permitted,
  • Child conceived through sperm donation has no legal father stated in his/her birth certificate,
  • Post-coital contraception is banned,
  • Intrauterine devices can be banned because among other mechanism of action they block embryo implantation,
  • “Conceived child” protection means a total ban of abortion,
  • No invasive prenatal testing is permitted,
  • Non-invasive prenatal testing is seriously limited to self-paid direct customer testing,
  • Tubal pregnancy can be treated only when it becomes a direct threat to a mother’s life,
  • In case of labour induction due to maternal life being in danger (eg. preeclampsia) and death of a premature infant doctors and midwives can be punished for a murder even if the death is caused by a prematurity itself,
  • Woman can be jailed for up to 5 years for having a miscarriage,
  • Providing or helping out with IVF, post-coital contraception or abortion can be punished with years behind the bars
  • There is no evidence-based sex ed in schools.

Liberal movements have raised their voices and since last Wednesday (21/09) hundreds of thousands of citizens have taken to the streets in “Black Protests- wear black in solidarity”. It is as if Polish women have woken up from a long dream. We had grown accustomed to our abortion law (the wealthy merely paid for the plane tickets and medical procedures needed to work around it) and everyone seemed to accept it as a measure to keep the peace in our predominantly Catholic country. But even Catholic women are appalled at the move by the Law and Justice (PiS) party to restrict our already limited reproductive rights. “No step further” goes the rallying cry.

Unfortunately, the ultra far-right governing conservative party all together with influential Catholic church officials gave the initiative its approval. The proposal, which the Council of Europe called a “serious backsliding on women’s rights”, inspired several large pro-choice movements and a rival drive to liberalise the law that lawmakers trashed out on Friday in its first reading.

In fact, the draconian nature of the law has done more to broaden support for women’s rights in Poland than any effort by women’s groups. Europe has taken notice too. Polish reproductive rights will be debated next month in the European parliament.

Last but not at least, medical staff are also taking to the streets protesting against low wages, illegally long working hours (against the EU laws) and too little public spendings on healthcare. If the Minister of Health Dr Konstanty Radziwiłł (widely known for his anti-choice views, the one who taken back public funding of IVF) does not fulfil the wishes of healthcare employees they will go on jurisdictional strike. No more, no less, it means a serious threat to life and health of millions of women, including those already impacted by the new strict law.

But we won’t stand idly and watch while women’s rights are getting crushed. The Author can be contacted by e-mail (karina.sasin@chbr.pl) and will provide all available contacts to the activists working on this case. Your voice can be heard!


kristina-gemzell-danielssonProf. Kristina Gemzell-Danielsson

The new and even stricter Polish law will deny women their rights to make decisions, the control of their bodies and their lives. It means an additional serious threat to life and health of millions of women who are already impacted by the current strict law. Women will also be denied access to the most effective and best accepted contraceptive methods, the possibility to use contraception after unprotected sex and sexual violence and, to decide if and when they want to have children. Furthermore the new law impose pseudo-protection of unborn children through limiting access to assisted reproduction. As has been well demonstrated the more restrictive law will not result in more women giving birth or abstaining from sex but will result in an increased number of women forced to illegal and unsafe procedures. It will mean increased inequality since only women who can afford to go or move abroad will have the possibility to access assisted reproduction, effective contraception and safe abortion The new law is a crime against women and society.

Prof. Kristina Gemzell-Danielsson
Chair, Division of Obstetrics and Gynecology,
Department of Women’s and Children’s Health,
Karolinska Institutet
Director, WHO Collaborating Centre for Research in Human Reproduction
Stockholm, Sweden

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Karina Sasin

Naukowczyni, aktywistka na rzecz praw reprodukcyjnych. Redaktor Naukowa "Chcemy Być Rodzicami". Wielokrotna stypendystka m.in. Organizacji Narodów Zjednoczonych, Rządu USA (NIH) i Krajowego Funduszu Na Rzecz Dzieci. Organizatorka konferencji International Meeting on MRKH Syndrome. Po godzinach miłośniczka cukiernictwa i dalekich podróży ;-)