Poland abortion ban protests sees thousand of women strike out against powers of church and state

By Dawid Tysowski

POLAND’s conservative governments’ attempt to outlaw abortion in nearly all cases has been met with strong opposition from pro-choice groups with thousands of women taking part in street protests across the country.  

Under a new bill passed by Poland’s constitutional court on October 22, the country’s strict abortion laws could be extended to ban termination in all cases of fetal defects, branded “eugenical abortions” by judges.

Today, in the new post-pandemic reality, with people’s eyes turned towards possible COVID-19-related restrictions, many call the new legislation an unexpected low blow. 

Following the ruling passed last month, abortion in Poland is now legal only in cases of rape or incest, and when the woman’s health or life is put at risk. The country is deeply divided over the matter. The pro-life arguments are mostly ideological, often backed by the Bible, especially by the Christian majority of Poles. 

The supporters of women’s rights want freedom of choice, saying that the Polish government provides little to no help for families with disabled children.

Conservative president Andrzej Duda was reelected in 2020 for his second term, his Law and Justice party (PiS) has ruled Poland for over five years. Throughout that time PiS have ruled governed from the right on social issues and the economy, with a touch of welfare spending, including the so-called “500+,” financial help for families with kids. 

Back in 2016, the same conservative PiS government wanted to ban abortion altogether. Similarly, it triggered a massive upheaval and gave birth to a movement, the National Women’s Strike (Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet).

 Four years ago, during the “Black Protest,” 30,000 men and women got to the streets, dressed in black, to protest against the legislation. After three days of marching across the streets of Polish cities, the legislation was turned down.

The argumental ping-pong in the debate is between empathy for the disabled children and their mothers. Conservative politicians, like the far-right Krzysztof Bosak, accuse leftists of blindly following the West. Indeed,  pro-abortion Poles often see conservatives as those who stop progress and live in bubbles of traditional values, unwilling to go forward.

Yet, the demands of the protesters don’t stop at abortion. They want a secular country since, in Poland, the Church and the government have been especially close; the Polish Church receiving large subsidies and standing, according to some of the strikes’ speakers, “above the law.”

Had it not been enough, the issue is closely knit with the broader feminist struggle, the female speakers claim confidently that they’re “tired of men telling them how to live and what to do with their bodies.”

After this new legislation was passed, people went on strikes every day for almost two weeks, frequently bringing cities to a standstill by blocking streets and roundabouts. 

On Wednesday, October 28th, some women didn’t go to work to show their discontent. They were joined by university students, many classes having been called off in support of the Women’s Strike.

Mainstream media outlets found it quite troublesome to cover the strikes since the main slogans are full of profanities, “F*ck PiS” and “F*ck Off” being the main ones. As both the organizers and attendees of the strike claim, they’re “pissed off” and fed up with the entire situation.

The protests have gained international publicity and support from abroad, women in Sweden have invited poles to seek help in their country noting that prior to liberalisation in the 1960s thousand of Swedes travelled to Poland where abortion had been decriminalised. 

In some cases, Poles are seeking treatment in neighbouring countries. For example, an organization called “Ciocia Basia” in Berlin helps Polish women access abortion services in Germany.

The situation continues to escalate, as the protesters are on occasions met with violence on the side of the police and far-right nationalist groups. The protests are supported by international leftist organizations, including Antifa, who the co-organisers some of the demonstrations.

Because of the Polish Church’s stark opposition to abortion, the importance of senior priests and bishops in Poland is a topic touched upon quite regularly during the protests. Some church services have been blocked as an act of public disobedience. 

In Poznan, Poland, one of the first strikes ended in front of the city’s cathedral, where the protesters wanted to put their theses, as Martin Luther did in 1517. The cathedral was protected by horse-mounted police officers preventing them from doing so.

PiS called for a period of calm after the new measure did not take effect on Monday, November 2 as expected following two weeks of mass protests.

Sensing hesitation on the side of the government, the protesters have continued regardless with organiser having announced further, weekly demonstrations. 

With no elections due in Poland this year 2020, both sides in the abortion debate see the situation is likely to escalate, the opposition waiting for seeing the government’s next move.

In a tweet this week, Women’s Strike made clear the organisation stands ready to fight any attempt to implement the new measure telling the government, “You wanted Belarus, you will have it.”

Featured Image: Agnieszka Rataj

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