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Abortion Laws in Poland

On Friday March 23, two demonstrations occurred in Poland; one titled “Black Friday,” for which demonstrators marched on Warsaw in protest of proposed tighter abortion laws, the other titled “White Friday,” a collection of prayer meetings held across the country in favour of stricter laws.

Poland already has some of the strictest reproductive health and abortion laws in Europe. Currently, condoms are the only contraceptive available over the counter. In addition, abortion is highly regulated, with is only legal in only three cases: when the health of the person carrying the fetus is in danger, when the fetus is ill or has a serious deformity, or if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest.

A citizen’s bill called “Stop Abortion,” which proposed the banning of abortions in the case an ill or deformed fetus, the reason for 95% of the country’s legal abortions, passed through Poland’s 2015 elected right-wing parliament, and was later backed by a parliamentary review committee. However, it has yet to be fully approved and implemented. Anti-abortion groups claim that the reason for banning abortions in the case of ill and deformed fetuses is to protect the potential lives of fetuses with Down’s Syndrome, saying that this diagnosis is the main reason for termination of pregnancy in Poland.

At the same time the “Stop Abortion” bill was proposed, a bill to liberalise abortion laws called “Save Women” was struck down. The “Save Women” bill sought to legalize abortion until the twelfth week of pregnancy, introduce sex education in schools, make prescription-free emergency contraceptives available, and ban pro-life picket protests showing graphic images near hospitals and schools. Pro-choice groups say that stricter abortion laws in the country will only force more people to seek illegal abortions, an already significant problem in Poland, where the number of illegal abortions per year (up to 150,000) outstrips the number of legal ones performed (1,000-2,000).

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda has agreed to sign the bill into law if it passes through parliament, while the Council of Europe is prompting the country to drop the bill because of its incongruity.

Written with material from BBC news, Aljazeera, and the Guardian.


Marielle Franco Murder

On Wednesday March 14, Brazilian activist and Rio de Janeiro city council member Marielle Franco was assassinated. That evening after leaving an event, an unidentified car approached her vehicle, and two men fired nine shots into its back window, killing Franco and her driver Anderson Pedro Gomes, and injuring a press officer. Authorities have yet to bring anyone up on charges in the case, and given the circumstances, the international community is calling for an independent investigation of Franco’s death.

Franco had become a champion for the city’s impoverished neighbourhoods — known as favelas — and was a known opponent of growing police and military control in Rio de Janeiro, often publicly criticizing the violent behaviour of law enforcement in the city. January of this year saw a 57 per cent increase in deaths resulting from police action, compared to January of last year. Franco called out the actions of Rio’s 41st police battalion, a group connected to several killings in the city, most recently those of two men from the Acari favela who were found in a drainage ditch earlier this month. Two days prior to her killing, she condemned the murder of Matheus Melo, a young Black man who was killed by police after leaving a church service in Rio’s Jacarezinho favela.

Franco, a gay Black woman from Rio’s Mare favela, was the fifth most-voted-for candidate in the 2016 municipal elections. Her death sparked international outrage and incited protests. A fellow activist and attendee at one of these protests, journalism student Daiene Mendes, told the Guardian that “Marielle was a symbol of our biggest conquests. A woman like us, Black, from the favela, who had a lot of strength to face the institutional challenges of the politics that always kept us distant.”

Written with material from the Guardian and Aljazeera