• A New Wave of Protest against Abortion Laws in Poland

  • By Anna Grodzka | 18 Nov 21 | Posted under: Central and Eastern Europe , Poland , Social Movements and Trade Unions
  • There has been a new wave of civic protests in Poland against the anti-women policy of the conservative Law and Justice party government and its right-wing coalition partners. As a result of a ruling by the illegally appointed Constitutional Tribunal, politicised by the current government, abortion on the grounds of foetal abnormality has been banned in Poland. In recent weeks, there have been reports of pregnant women dying in Polish hospitals because damaged foetuses have not been removed in time and have died in their bodies. Doctors have refrained from carrying out abortions while waiting for the foetus to die, because they are afraid of being charged under the draconian law in force from 2020. They are also afraid about the reaction from the conservative sections of society and fanatical anti-abortion activists.

    In order to understand the current changes to the abortion law in Poland, several important facts need to be recalled. Before the political transformation in 1989, there existed liberal abortion regulations in the Polish People’s Republic from 1956, with abortion permitted up to the 12th week of pregnancy, performed free of charge in hospitals and also available for certain social reasons (economic, family, etc.).

    However, after the political transformation, one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe came into force in Poland from 1993 to 2020. Abortion was permitted only in three cases: in order to save a woman’s life or health; because of damaged foetuses; or if the pregnancy was the result of a crime. This so-called 'abortion compromise', which was in fact never a compromise at all, but a restriction of women's rights by limiting the right to abortion and by conforming to the guidelines of the Church, was still not restraining enough for conservative politicians and religious fundamentalists, supported by the hierarchy of the Polish Catholic Church. The Church supported and maintained the rhetoric of the anti-abortion movements by using the terms 'mother of a conceived child' instead of a pregnant woman and 'conceived child' in relation to foetuses and even embryos.

    In September 2016, the Polish parliament (Sejm) rejected the civic project of the "Save Women" Committee, which sought to liberalise the abortion law, and at the same time open up a debate on the restrictive "Stop Abortion" bill. The Foundation of the Institute for Legal Culture "Ordo Juris", which is very active in Poland, had presented a proposal that would have completely banned abortion and meant that women who underwent an abortion, or people who assisted them, could be imprisoned. 

    These events sparked a protest near the ‘Black Protest’ in front of the Sejm, followed by subsequent demonstrations across the country. This culminated in huge demonstrations by women and their allies, organised by feminist circles on 3 October 2016 across Poland. This protest, later dubbed the "Black Umbrellas" protest by the media, proved effective. Their size and strength frightened the authorities and a few days later the Sejm rejected the project.

    It is also worth shortly describing the 'Ordo Iuris'. The "Onet" website reported in an article based on an investigation carried out by the Reporters Foundation: "Ordo Iuris founders finance with millions a conservative crusade around the world". Over the past few years "the founding fathers of Ordo Iuris have sent nearly 10 million euros from Poland to ultra-Catholic organisations around the world." This money reportedly comes from donations of pictures with Our Lady of Fatima and rosaries. They support the global movement fighting the right to terminate pregnancies, "anti-gender" and LGBTQ movements, and opponents of "liberal values". The "Ordo Iuris" Foundation is affiliated with the Brazilian NGO Tradition, Family and Property (TFP), and active in many countries. "Ordo ternationally. Iuris" also cooperates with the World Congress of Families, founded by the Russian oligarch, Vladimir Yakunin, and with Agenda Europe, an international network of conservative Christian fundamentalists, seeking, among other things, to ban in vitro, contraception and abortion, and fighting sex education and stigmatizing non-heteronormative people.

    Analysing the situation of abortion regulations in Poland, it is also worth noting that since the adoption of the so-called "abortion compromise", the "liberal" and, at the same time, conservative politicians of the Civic Platform and other right-wing groups have not taken any steps to civilise the inhuman regulations, but have supported them for years. This confirms the right-wing character of the "compromise", which consequently encouraged religious fundamentalists to attempt to introduce a total ban on abortion in Poland (Ordo Iuris in 2016 and Kaja Godek and her "Life and Family" Foundation in 2021).

    An important event that shocked society, and instigated new protest actions, was the ruling of the politicised "Constitutional Court" of 22 October 2020 stating that it was unconstitutional to carry out an abortion even in conditions when there exists a high probability of severe, irreversible impairment of the foetus or an incurable disease threatening its life. This ruling was the result of an application submitted to the 'tribunal' in autumn 2019 by a group of conservative MPs. These events again prompted demonstrations across the country in October and November 2020, which lasted for days despite the pandemic restrictions that were in place at the time and the aggressive treatment of protestors, including female MPs, by the police.

    On the anniversary of the shameful 'tribunal' ruling, Polish women and men again took to the streets, mobilised by information about the deaths of pregnant women who had been denied life-saving abortions. Protests under the slogan 'Ani jednej więcej' (Not a single one more) intensified after the death of Iza from the town of Pszczyna, who died in hospital as a result of sepsis, because doctors waited to induce labour on a damaged foetus with multiple malformations before its heartbeat stopped.

    When observing the current protests, which are running into thousands, it is worth noting their spontaneous nature. Women, especially young women, who, following the decision of the Constitutional Tribunal have been denied the right to decide about their own bodies and their own fertility, have spontaneously risen up against the restrictive abortion regulations without any special preparations, organisational structures or funding.

    In conclusion, I would like to point out that only Polish left-wing politicians have been talking for years about the need to liberalise abortion law in accordance with the European spirit, about the right of women to decide about their own fertility and recognising that abortion is a procedure which often saves a woman's life.

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