• Isha Banerjee

Polish Protests: Thousands of women take the streets to protest against tighter abortion laws

The pro-life versus pro-choice debate has been an issue that has been heavily discussed all over the world. This discussion is most prominently heard in the United States, especially through protests and conversations with politicians. However, we are switching our focus to a country in central Europe: Poland. Poland has Europe’s tightest abortion laws, but on 22nd October, these laws were tightened even more. Previously, Poland allowed abortions in the case of rape, incest, fetal abnormalities and if the mother’s life is in danger. The latest court ruling would make abortions due to fetal abnormalities illegal as they believe it violates the Polish constitution. A large majority of legal abortions performed last year in Poland occur due to fetal abnormalities (1074 out of 1100). Even then, many women in Poland travel abroad to receive abortions or get them done illegally. This is because having a legal abortion in Poland comes with its set of hurdles, especially the fact that doctors are able to refuse women who want to receive abortions. They can also refuse to provide contraception on religious grounds.

This has pulled thousands of people to the streets to protest against the tightening of these laws. The protesters have chosen to outrage against a right-wing government that is infringing upon the rights of women and minorities. Protesters are demanding that the court reverses itself and that restrictions on abortion laws are loosened. These protests have spread across the country in various cities, villages and towns. The protesters dressed up as characters from Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and interrupted masses while vandalizing churches. ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is a prominent piece of literature that delves deep into the oppression of women and their worth in society. Across the world, many protesters have worn the costumes of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ to protest against gender-based oppression. Poland is a very Catholic society, thus, the church is a strong ally to the government. In response to these protests, the prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki responded by saying “what is happening in the public space, those acts of aggression, attacks, barbarism, is unacceptable. I don’t give my consent to attack people, churches, and the right to pursue values by others.”

In 2015, Poland passed a law that removed judiciary independence. Judiciary independence is the idea in most democracies that judges should be given the right to have political control. This law has been subject to a lot of criticism by various nations, specifically the European Union. Tightening abortion laws has been something that the Polish government has tried to do on numerous occasions but has not been able to get enough votes from the parliament. To ensure that the law is passed, the right-wing lawmakers sent the law to the highest constitutional court to review. Many believe that the government is trying to take the public eye off of their Covid-19 cases and the way the nation has handled the pandemic. The protesters are criticizing the government because they are making women choose between having unsafe abortions, going abroad to get an abortion or deliver a child with sometimes permanent and fatal health challenges. The governing party strongly believes in the traditional Catholic values and refers to their opponents as anti-Polish.

The protesters are using a slogan that is purposefully considered inappropriate by the church to send a message that being friendly and approachable did not work. They are also trying to break down traditional taboos set by the church who have tried to pressurize the government to tighten or even eliminate abortion laws. Women’s rights activists are holding signs that read: “This is war,” or “we have had enough,” and “we will not be victimized.” Young protesters have been standing up against priests by doing graffiti on the walls of cathedrals but have been met with physical violence from right-wing defenders of the church. Previously, Poland and other communist nations in the Soviet Union bloc had the most liberal abortion laws. Women’s rights activists would help women travel to Poland from other countries in Europe to receive safe and legal abortions. However, now, it is one of the countries with the tightest abortion laws in Europe. These protests are continuing to escalate and Polish politicians are being pressurized to reconsider the legislation that has passed.

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