WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Thousands of Poles, many dressed in black, rallied Saturday in front of parliament in Warsaw to protest a proposed bill that would impose a complete ban on abortion.
Speakers at the so-called "Black Protest" said a total ban on abortion, including for victims of rape or women whose lives are endangered by a pregnancy, would be "barbaric." Poland already has one of Europe's most restrictive abortion laws.
Organizers chose black as a symbol of mourning for the loss of reproductive rights that that say women could suffer if the law passes. In rallying speeches, they said they want as few abortions as possible in Poland, but that this goal should be achieved with better sex education in schools and easier access to birth control.
"We will not allow our hospitals to be turned into torture chambers and our doctors into prison guards," Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bak, a member of the left-wing Together party, told the crowd.
Protesters chanted "Stop the fanatics!" and "We want doctors not, missionaries," while slogans on banners included: "My body, my choice."
Police estimated 5,000 people took part.
One protester, Gosia Goszczynska, 36, said she is furious not only about a possible total abortion ban, but also other elements of the law which she sees as harmful to women, including a provision that would deny women prenatal testing.
"And it's terrible to force a rape victim to have her child if she doesn't want it — this could even lead to cases of women killing their unwanted children after birth," Goszczynska said. "I don't agree with this at all. It's just not acceptable."
The proposal for the total ban on abortion, and the outrage it has sparked, are the latest example of deepening social tensions under Poland's conservative Law and Justice party, which took power last year and holds a majority in the parliament.
The proposal for the stricter law came from a citizens' initiative that had gathered 450,000 signatures.
While many in Law and Justice profess a strong allegiance to the Catholic church, they are divided over further restricting the abortion law. The current law already bans abortions unless the woman's life is at risk, the pregnancy results from rape or incest or the fetus is badly damaged.
The total abortion ban proposal is now being examined by a parliamentary commission and it isn't clear what form it might eventually take. A vote is not expected for weeks.
A separate citizens' initiative presented to parliament had called for a liberalization of the abortion law, allowing the procedure up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, but lawmakers voted not to discuss that proposal.
Another protest against the abortion ban is planned for Monday.