Here in America, one presidential candidate’s inflammatory comments regarding abortion legislation have given women’s rights activists cause for serious concern. In a number of European countries, meanwhile, another heated battle is being waged in the war for reproductive freedom.
In Poland, some citizens and legislators are attempting to strengthen already strict anti-abortion laws. Earlier this month, a “Stop Abortion” civil committee submitted a draft bill to their government that calls for not only a complete ban on abortion, but also asks for a new criminal code called “pre-natal murder” to be added to the books, according to NBC News. The bill allows women who have an abortion performed, as well as doctors and anyone who helps her have the procedure, to be prosecuted and sentenced to up to five years in prison.
As it stands, abortion is illegal in Poland except in cases of rape, incest or when the pregnancy is a threat to the mother’s life. This bill would restrict women’s access further by banning all abortion, regardless of the reason.
In Italy, abortion restrictions have historically been less restrictive. It has been legal for a woman to have an abortion procedure in that nation since 1978. However, the recent social climate in the country has caused women to have a very difficult time finding a doctor who is willing to perform an abortion. Many doctors refuse to perform the procedure due to personal moral objections, according to Medical Daily. As a result, many Italian women are forced to travel abroad to receive the necessary care they seek, potentially endangering themselves in the process by prolonging the procedure they need.
Europe has a long way to go before it can offer its women the quality of care without judgment that they deserve. Take a look at this map from the Center for Reproductive Rights, which shows abortion access in every country in the world. While in Europe, abortion is legally allowed “without restriction as to reason” in a majority of countries – with the notable exceptions of the United Kingdom, Poland, Finland and a few others – the recent surge among anti-abortion activists across the EU could change that status drastically.
In reaction to the recent anti-abortion movement, protestors have been fighting to protect women’s rights across Europe. Church walk-outs were staged in many countries, including Poland, while priests read letters issued by the church to address this topic. In Northern Ireland, protestors gathered outside the Belfast Public Prosecution Service, where a 21-year-old woman was sentenced to a three-month sentence suspended for two years for inducing a miscarriage. She was sentenced under the Offenses Against the Person Act, which was passed when Queen Victoria was still around.
Protestors handed out coat hangers and held signs that read, “dead women can’t have babies” in an effort to remind lawmakers of the fate that awaits women who are forced to turn to desperate measures for abortions. Across Europe, protestors have chanted “my body, my choice,” while in Poland, 15 cities participated in pro-choice movements, with thousands of people demonstrating for women’s right to choose.
What happens next in Poland – and in Europe as a whole – is now up to the politicians. While many people think that the bill in Poland will be difficult to pass, the fact that it has been introduced at all is a good way to read the current climate within the European nations. There is still a great deal of work to be done to guarantee that every woman in the world has the reproductive rights they deserve.