LONDON — Women all over Poland went on strike Monday to protest the government's plans for a ban on abortions. It was unclear how many women participated nationally, but organizers estimated that up to 6 million women joined in the protest, according to news reports.
Some protesters wore black clothes as they marched through the streets on "Black Monday." There were counter-demonstrations, as well, with antiabortion protesters marching in white clothes to distinguish themselves from their ideological opponents.
Poland's abortion laws are already among Europe's strictest. Women are allowed to have an abortion only if the pregnancy is due to incest or rape, or if the life of the pregnant woman or the fetus is under threat.
Under the proposal, at least two of those exceptions would no longer exist. Women choosing an abortion illegally would face five years behind bars. Doctors could be sentenced to prison if found guilty of helping with or performing abortions.
The proposal is supported by the country's Catholic Church, and the right-wing government has cleared a first parliamentary hurdle.
But human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, have harshly criticized the plans, calling them "a dangerous backward step for women and girls in Poland." Critics say they also fear that women having miscarriages would automatically be placed under investigation.
London-based rights advocate Anna Blus noted in an analysis on Amnesty International's website: "At demonstrations across Poland protesters have held up coat hangers as a reminder of the primitive and dangerous methods of self-induced abortion women would be compelled to resort to."
If enacted, a total ban would make Poland one of the world's most restrictive nations on abortion. Only a few countries completely prohibit abortions.
The only two European states with such bans are the Vatican and Malta. The other countries having similar laws are in Latin America and the Caribbean: Chile, Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
The Polish Catholic Church and other supporters of an abortion ban have said that it would preserve lives. It is likely that the Polish parliament will pass a proposal which would still allow abortions if needed to save a woman's life.
Poland is among Europe's most religious countries, and the Catholic Church is considered to have strong influence. A 2015 survey by Gallup International found that there are fewer atheists in Poland, as a proportion of the population, than in almost all other European countries.
But some doctors in Poland have repudiated the Catholic Church's argument, saying such an abortion law could have deadly repercussions, according to Polish media reports translated by the BBC.
"If I have a patient with preeclampsia, who is 32 weeks pregnant, I will have to let her and her child die," Romuald Debski, a doctor at a hospital in Poland's capital, Warsaw, was quoted as saying. "I have to, because if I perform a Caesarean section and the child dies, I may go to prison for three years, because the child was premature."