The Belgian government has announced €10,000 in funds to facilitate women in Poland who cannot afford to access abortions abroad, after Warsaw imposed a near-total ban on terminations earlier this year.

In a symbolic move on Tuesday, which the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights has designated International Safe Abortion Day, the Belgian health minister and junior equality minister pledged €10,000 ($11,638) in funding to the organization Abortion without Borders.

The donation makes Belgium the first country whose government has acted to financially assist Polish women looking to end their pregnancies, according to the group.

Commenting on the move, Equality Minister Sarah Schlitz remarked that “access to abortion is a fundamental right that every democratic state must ensure,” and explained that “when the state fails to protect its citizens, civil society must step in.”

According to Schlitz and Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke, the two politicians wanted to send a “strong signal” to Warsaw about women’s reproductive rights.

The move comes in the wake of an anti-abortion campaign which called for the further criminalization of people who support others in getting terminations.

Mara Clarke, the founder of the Abortion Support Network, hailed the Belgian support, stating that “while the situation for people who need abortions in Poland has been dire since 1990, the ruling made in October 2020 and published in January 2021 has made things even worse” and has seen double the number of women needing help.

In October last year, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled that abortion on the grounds of fetal defects are unconstitutional, effectively striking off the most common reason for terminating a pregnancy legally in the country. Criminal cases, such as rape and/or incest, or where the mother’s life or health is at risk are the only exceptions.

The ban triggered mass demonstrations nationwide in Poland, with tens of thousands of people marching through Warsaw on one night alone last October, said to be one of the largest protests to hit the Polish capital in decades.

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