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Two Steps Back Poland's New Abortion Law Wanda Nowicka On February 15,1993, President Lech Walesa signed a restrictive antiabortion bul into law, thus ending three years of a vigorous anti-abortion campaign and eUminating the fundamental reproductive rights of PoUsh women. The campaign has been associated with the coUapse of communism, an event which was wdcomed by most within PoUsh soddy. PoUtical transformation brought necessary and positive change but unexpededly it also brought some negative effeds, espedaUy regarding the rights of women. The rights of women have been affeded on two levels. First, the transition from the communist system to a free market economy caused unemployment unknown under communism. The phenomenon affeded women to a greater extent than men; women constitute 54 percent of the registered unemployed. Employers are not willing to employ a woman unless she can work as a secretary and is under thirty years of age. The second major effed on women's Uves came as a result of pressure exerted by the CathoUc Church and "Christian fundamentalists" advocating a complete ban on abortion. PoUsh CathoUdsm has always been strong and it became even stronger under communism. For many it was a shelter for poUtical opposition. When communism finaUy collapsed, the CathoUc Church set about a poticy aimed at institutionalizing its position within the sodety. The first step in this process was introducing CathoUc instruction to public schools in September 1990. Other examples of this poticy are the display of reUgious symbols and practices in offices, the PoUsh parUament, the PoUsh army, and so on. Since March 2, 1993, mandatory Christian values are to be respeded by PoUsh radio and television. Some fundamentalist forces are pushing for the aboUtion of the separation of church and state, guaranteed at this time by the PoUsh constitution. Anew constitution is presently being prepared and the article that concerns separation of church and state is perceived by some as a remnant of communism and is therefore seriously threatened. Some of the stronger poUtical groups in ParUament support the reestablishment of Christian values in aU spheres of PoUsh Ufe. The reatity for women is that the term "Christian values" translates into a poticy where the only "proper" role for women is wife and mother. In these circumstances it is easy to understand how conservative influence in this political climate could manifest itself in an anti-abortion bul. © 1994 Journal of Women's History, Vol 5 No. 3 (Winter)_________________ This paper was presented at the European Population Conference, Geneva, March 23-26,1993. 152 Journal of Women's History Winter Abortion was legalized in 1956. Many reasons, such as a lack of sex education in schools, low availabitity of reüable and safe contraception (espedaUy in rural areas), lack of reliable information, low effectiveness of the few institutions responsible for spreading information and distributing contraceptives, and a campaign by the CathoUc Church against contraception , resulted in a very low rate of contraceptive use. A survey taken in the summer of 1991 showed that 40 to 50 percent of respondents do not use any contraceptives (varying with age group). Only 1 percent use the PuI and 3.8 percent use spermirides. Under these drcumstances it is not surprising that the abortion rate is high. However, the actual number of abortions varies depending on the source of information (from 60,000 to 300,000 per year). In 1990 the Ministry of Health tightened rules for abortion at pubticfunded hospitals (the regulations require women to obtain permission from two gynecologists, a local physician, and a psychologist). In November 1990 Professor Wadaw Dec, Head of Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at the Medical Academy in Ladt, pubUdzed the deaths of three women from setf-induced abortions. He attributed these deaths to the new restrictive abortion regulations. Professor Dec also revealed that pressures had been brought to bear on him by the authorities at the Ministry of Heath in order to change the dassification of these three cases. At the present time doctors have noticed an increase in the number of cases recorded as spontaneous abortions (miscarriages). For example, the director of the hospital in Zdunska WoIa stated in an interview with Gazeta Wyborcza on December...