In Warsaw, women’s rights come under brutal attack.

In Poland, a nation of some 39 million, 1000 legal terminations of pregnancies occurred last year. In the U.S, a country of 330 million, there were about 700,000 in 2012, the last year for which we have official records. That was a four percent drop from 2011.

In Poland then, there was one legal abortion for every 39000 citizens; in the U.S, one for every 471. But estimates of illegal abortions in Poland range from 10,000 to 150,000—too wide a range to be meaningful. But if we split the difference and say 80,000, then the average is not much different from the United States, maybe slightly higher.

Illegal abortions in the U.S. have dropped to infinitesimally small numbers, but in the years preceding Roe v. Wade, about 5,000 American women died annually from illegal, mishandled, botched abortions. It is not overdramatizing to claim they were murdered.

The current conservative Polish government, with the backing of the Catholic Church, is hoping to pass new legislation making all abortions illegal. As it is now in Poland, an abortion can only be obtained in cases of rape and/or incest, when a woman’s health is jeopardized, or when the health of the fetus is endangered. Strict as that law is, the change will drive Poland back to the Dark Ages and create a tempting and dangerous market for illegal abortionists. Women will die again, yet a petition with 450,000 names on it has forced this new draconian legislation to the fore, even though a survey found only 11% of Poles favored it.

The new ban would punish women who have an abortion, as well as the doctor who assists, with five-year prison sentences. Even worse, as one gynecologist pointed out, a law that forbids anything that jeopardizes the fetus would also dissuade doctors from any invasive prenatal tests or lifesaving operations. The risk would be too great. In an extreme example, a woman with pre-eclampsia who is 32 weeks pregnant will die, as will her child. No exceptions.

I point this out today because the first vice-presidential debate is scheduled for this evening, and the republican candidate, Mike Pence, once decimated access to abortion in his home state of Indiana by signing into law an oppressive measure that would have punished doctors with wrongful death suits, thereby relegating women to back room abortionists. A federal judge blocked the law from going into effect. Pence has also been one of a cadre in the religious right hell-bent on defunding Planned Parenthood. Beyond all that his well-known and unrelenting disdain for the LGBT community: in 2015 he signed a bill into law permitting business owners to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers due to their religious beliefs.

Donald Trump chose Mike Pence to placate the evangelical right, and he chose well. Now we have to choose well and keep Mr. Pence sequestered in Indiana.

(The protests in Poland have been widespread, and they extended to the rest of Europe also: Brussels, London, Belfast. As for our beleaguered Polish friends, you can express your solidarity here:


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