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Women In Poland Storm Out Of Church Over Proposed Abortion Ban

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 5/04/2016 Alexandra Ma
POLAND © Kamila Chomicz POLAND

This is not your typical Catholic Mass.

Dozens of women and a few men walked out of a church service in Gdansk, Poland, Sunday in protest of the Catholic Church's call for a ban on abortion.

In the video above, people can be seen filing out as the priest reads a letter from the Conference of the Polish Episcopate, the central organ of the Polish Catholic Church. The letter, which was made public last Wednesday, backs a controversial anti-abortion bill that the country's politicians recently expressed interest in passing.

The letter also called on politicians to set up "programs to ensure concrete help" for parents of children with disabilities and those conceived through rape, according to U.K.-based magazine the Catholic Herald. Priests around the country were instructed to read the document out loud at their Sunday services, according to Vatican Radio.

The video above, named "Exit from St. Mary's Basilica," was taken toward the end of Sunday Mass, Kamila Chomicz, an artist who shot the footage, told The WorldPost via email.

The walk-out was pre-planned by members of the Facebook group Dziewuchy Dziewuchom - Trójmiasto, or "Girls For Girls - Tri-City," which was created to organize protests against the abortion ban in the neighboring cities of Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot. The group consists of atheists as well as those closely affiliated with the Catholic Church who decided to act after the anti-abortion pronouncement, Karolina Pochwatka, the founder of the Facebook group, told The WorldPost.

It was unclear whether the people who walked out usually attend Sunday services or went solely to carry out the demonstration, Pochwatka added.

Some 250 miles away, in Warsaw, women and men also stormed out of a church service at St. Anne's Church as the priest read out the same letter. In a video released by Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, one protester stayed behind to protest from her seat, before other churchgoers seized her arm and Mass continued.

While the two events took place at the same time, the protests in St. Anne's and St. Mary's were planned independently, said Lidka Makowska, one of the leaders of the Gdansk walk-out.

Also on Sunday, thousands of people gathered around the country in prominent spots including a central square in Sopot, Krakow's Main Square and outside the parliament building in Warsaw to protest against the shift toward anti-abortion laws, chanting slogans like, "My body, my business" and waving around coat hangers, a gruesome symbol of illegal abortions.

The Catholic Church's call for the abortion ban came as some of the country's most senior politicians, including Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and Jarosław Kaczyński, leader and cofounder of the conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS), said publicly that they would favor a tightening of the country's strict abortion laws.

PiS controls both houses of Poland's parliament and is known to have close ties to the Catholic Church. Kaczyński said that "a large part or even all" PiS lawmakers would support the abortion ban, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Currently, under a 1993 law, abortions in Poland are restricted to cases of rape, incest and severe fetal impairment, or where the woman's life may be in danger.

"When it comes to the life of the unborn, we can't remain at the current compromise set out in the law," the Catholic Church stated in the letter.

A draft law that calls for a complete ban on abortion does not yet exist, but a civic group called Stop Abortion is working to gather 100,000 signatures so it can present a bill to parliament, according to Politico.

"Abortion is a difficult and complex subject, but if the law is tightened I do not know if Poland is a country where I want to live," Chomicz told The WorldPost.

The PiS also wants to end state funding for in-vitro fertilization and start requiring that people present prescriptions for morning-after pills, Reuters reported. The Polish Catholic Church strongly opposes both IVF and emergency contraceptives, the wire agency added.

According to the country's National Health Fund, 1,812 legal abortions were carried out in Poland, which has a population of 38 million, in 2014. But the actual number of abortions in the country is much larger -- every year, at least 80,000 women in Poland undergo abortions in the country illegally or in other European Union countries with less limiting laws, according to the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning.

Sylvia Nasiadko contributed to this report.

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