AS protests in Poland continue against a near-total ban of abortion, women in Europe have taken to the streets to support the fight for women’s rights.
Across Europe, demonstrations have gathered hundreds of women in solidarity with Polish women to denounce an infringement to abortion access, considered by the United Nations a fundamental human right.
On 22 October, the Constitutional Court declared abortion unconstitutional even in cases of foetal anomalies.
This decision marks a new chapter in the legislation on abortion in the country, one of the toughest in the world. For Polish women, abortion would only be available if the pregnancy results from sexual assault or is a risk for the woman’s life or health.
Following a wave of protests unseen since the fall of communism in the country, gathering more than 100,000 people to the streets of Warsaw, the conservative government, led by the PiS (Law & Justice), halted the controversial ruling and invited the protesters to an open dialogue.
While the ruling has not been published, protests and peaceful gatherings are still taking place across the continent.
In the Netherlands, Polish nationals have gathered in Amsterdam, The Hague, Tilburg, Maastricht and Groningen over the past two weeks, and a peaceful demonstration is taking place today in Eindhoven.
Patrycja Kulpan, Eindhoven’s protest co-organiser, told Redaction Politics: “I want to show our support to Polish women and to all of my friends and family who are still there in Poland.
“It’s amazing to see what is happening, everyone actually is going on the streets. They’ve just had enough. Some years ago, they started with that law about abortion, but it wasn’t so strict like now. And then, we also had some kind of protest and they stopped. But nowadays they started again. And I don’t understand.
“I think they want to go back in time, that a woman is just supposed to give you a child and stay home and cook.”
Ms Kulpan, who moved from Poland to the Netherlands ten years ago, hopes international protests will mobilise foreign governments to put pressure on the PiS.
She said: “That’s also why we’re doing a protest abroad, so that everyone will see it.”
Despite the interruption of the Court ruling’s publication, reports show that medical institutes in Poland are already refusing to perform abortions following the announcement of the near-total ban.
“Even though the legislation hasn’t passed, people are acting off their own bat, off their own merit and using that as an excuse,” says Alliance for Choice Derry activist Bethany Moore.
“I think the North is a perfect example. It’s almost like legislation is fine, but in terms of access, it doesn’t matter. And you can see that being replicated in Poland, despite the fact that the legislation has been put on pause, providers are going ‘Well, actually, we can’t do this anymore’, despite that not being the case.
In Northern Ireland, where abortion was decriminalised a year ago, services can be commissioned in the region since March 2020, but are still confronted with difficulties.
Miss Moore explained that the shortage of equipment, training not being provided, the lack of commitment from Northern Ireland’s Health Minister, Robin Swann, and the Covid-19 pandemic have made abortion access challenging.
“We’re looking at a world where there’s lots of catalysts for change happening at the moment, Black Lives Matter protests, protests in Poland, etc,” she said.
“But I think a lot of governments are using this time to try and suppress reproductive rights rights for pregnant people, and specifically the right to abortion.
“Malta was meant to have a referendum to possibly change their laws the way Ireland’s done a few years ago, but that was put on pause due to coronavirus. I think a lot of governments are using that as an excuse to sneak legislation through or maybe pause legislation, which is exactly what Poland has just done.”
Abortion has been a recurring topic in the past few weeks following the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett, a strong supporter of the anti-choice movement, to the Supreme Court by former President Donald Trump. At the same time, 33 countries, including the United States, Hungary and Poland, signed a non binding international anti-abortion declaration.
“We are looking at a massive rollback of reproductive rights, abortion rights, women’s rights. And it goes further than that, LGBTQ+ rights.”
Earlier this year, local municipalities across Poland saw their European funding withdrawn after declaring themselves LGBT-free zones and critics are now calling for Poland’s Education Minister to be fired following a statement where he claimed that LGBT ideology came from the same roots as Nazism.
The same minister already faced critics last year after saying that women were created to produce children.
While women’s rights are facing violations across the world, Miss Moore concedes that there are reasons to rejoice.
“Colorado has just shut down an abortion ban that was trying to stop abortions after 22 weeks,” she said.
“And if you look at Iceland, they are trying to push through a proposal to allow Europeans to have abortions in Iceland if they are not able to have it in their home country, and the service will also be free.”
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