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Abortion in Europe: ‘#CoatHangerRebellion’ Grips Poland


The movement has a hashtag — they call it the #CoatHangerRebellion. Activists for decades have decried the abortion laws in deeply Catholic Poland, which are among the most restrictive in Europe. Their anger has now boiled over.

A proposed law to ban abortion outright has sent thousands of Poles onto the streets, coat hangers held aloft and drawn on posters — a long-standing symbol of dangerous self-induced or back-alley abortions. The timing of the proposal and evocative imagery used by the protesters speaks volumes to a shifting battleground in Poland and beyond.
‘Get Mad’

At 69 years old, Ewa Dabrowska-Szulc considers herself lucky to have come of age at a time when her three abortions were legal — a far cry from the current situation in her native Poland.

“We were lucky, we women — as we call it — generations of The Beatles, meaning those who reached adulthood in the 60s, 70s,” she told NBC News. “We could enjoy the right to abortion … It was just a part of our lives.”

That’s a choice she would no longer have.

A woman places a coat hanger in front of the Polish Parliament during a demonstration against a proposal to tightening the country’s abortion law on April 3 in Warsaw. Alik Keplicz / AP

A law introduced in 1993 made abortion legal only under three narrow exceptions — and she says the situation would be made worse by the proposal to criminalize abortion under all circumstances.

“I believe that we women of almost 70 years old should tell the truth,” the mother-of-two said while clutching a poster at a rally in Warsaw earlier this month. “We had the right to decide — do we have a child or not?”

That’s why she was out on the streets embracing the Coat Hanger Rebellion — fighting to restore the rights she had for today’s young women.

“I hope that … in 2016, the new generation of women would get mad.”

Abortion is illegal in Poland except under three circumstances: in cases of rape, incest or when there is a serious threat to the mother or baby’s life.

When the restrictions were passed 23 years ago, the law was billed as a compromise; there was pressure from then-Pope John Paul II to perhaps go further.

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