(Changes name, title in paragraphs 15-16 to Foreign Minister
Witold Waszczykowski ..not.. deputy prime minister Mateusz
* Divided Poland debates tighter abortion rules
* Thousands of women dressed in black disrupt businesses
* Conservative government in quandry over draft rules
* "Let them have fun", foreign minister tells radio station
By Marcin Goclowski and Marcin Goettig
WARSAW, Oct 3 Thousands of women in black went
on strike across Poland on Monday, closing down restaurants,
government offices and university classes, and blocking access
to the ruling party headquarters in Warsaw to protest against
plans for a total ban on abortion.
Legislation proposed by an independent group would forbid
any termination, tightening Poland's already restrictive rules
that allow abortion only in the case of rape, incest or a threat
to the mother's health, or when the baby is likely to be
It is unclear whether the conservative Law and Justice (PiS)
government will back the draft law, introduced by the group Ordo
Iuris. But the possibility of new restrictions has stirred an
intense debate in the staunchly Catholic Poland.
"I didn't go to work today," said Gabriela, a 41-year-old
market researcher from Warsaw.
"They are violating our civic rights, and I wanted to
support all the women who may be hurt, who may be denied medical
help and forced to have a disabled child ... And I am doing it
for my daughter."
Critics say the proposed rules would discourage doctors from
conducting prenatal testing, particularly if procedures carry
the risk of miscarriage, or put the life of women with an
ectopic pregnancy at risk.
The draft rules allow for termination if a woman's life is
in direct danger.
Women and doctors could face prison if convicted of causing
what the proposed rules call "death of a conceived child".
Dressed in black, women chanted "We want doctors, not
missionaries!" and "Jaroslaw, get out!" in front of the central
Warsaw offices of PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
Some carried posters saying: "A government is not like a
pregnancy - it can be terminated".
For PiS, which swept into power a year ago on a promise of
more wealth equality and conservative values in public life, the
proposed rules pose a dilemma.
It could antagonise the powerful Catholic church if it fails
to back the legislation - or fan an even wider public outcry if
Poland remains one of Europe's most Catholic nations, with
about 90 percent of citizens declaring allegiance to the church.
But the clergy's sway over the heart and soul of churchgoers,
although still strong in some places, has been waning.
PiS officials have been quoted in local media saying the
party may introduce its own proposal in parliament that would
allow abortion in the case of rape and incest and a threat to
the mother's health but disallow terminations of handicapped
"The right to life, or as some insist, the right to an
abortion, is an important moral challenge for our civilisation,
our western civilisation," Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski
told RMF FM radio.
"Let them have fun," he said of the protesting women. "They
should go ahead if they think there are no bigger problems in
Official statistics show several hundred legal abortions are
conducted in Poland each year. But activists say many women are
denied access to the procedure when doctors invoke a legal right
to decline to perform it on moral or religious grounds.
Tens of thousands are done illegally, activists say, with
many women crossing the border to Germany or Slovakia to obtain
(Writing by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Hugh Lawson)