The women's movement taking on the Polish government's draconian abortion ruling is developing into a broader political force, writes Reece Goscinski
Poland’s Constitutional Court has moved to publish the abortion ruling which sparked waves of protests led by Strajk Kobiet (Women’s Strike) in October. This is following the delayed publication of the legislation which was due in November following political pressure from the strike. The protests from the Polish people represents the latest event in cultural and political action taking place in Eastern Europe. The young women leading the movement are providing the blueprint for taking on Europe’s ultra-conservatives as well as organising international solidarity and support.
The recent Constitutional court ruling prohibits abortions in cases of severe and irreversible foetal abnormalities finding the previous 1993 law unconstitutional. The revised law determines that a foetus can only legally be terminated in cases of incest, rape, or where the pregnancy threatens the mother’s life. The justification is that a “child not yet born is a human being” with the right to be protected under the constitution.
Strajk Kobiet organiser Marta Lempart declared the ruling illegitimate and threatened legal action against doctors refusing terminations. This is despite doctors cancelling abortions with foetal abnormalities according to media reports. In 2019, foetal abnormalities accounted for 98% of legal abortions in the country and this new move presents significant risk to the health, well-being, and rights of Polish women.
Whilst this move from the Court was banking on public fatigue with the issue, its publication has inspired a new wave of protests fronted by Polish women and the LGBT movement. In defiance of the country’s Covid restrictions, protesters have taken to the streets of major cities including Warsaw, Wrocław, Poznań, and Krakòw whilst thousands have descended on PiS headquarters demanding “Freedom of choice instead of terror.” By Thursday night protesters and police were caught in a 5 hour standoff as organisers of the movement were detained.
Despite the ruling being unpopular amongst the majority of Poles, the constitutional change is the latest attempt for Kaczyński’s “illiberal democracy” to hold power and hegemony amid plummeting public approval. PiS has been heavily criticised over its handling of the pandemic which saw a spike in cases in November. Hospitals in major cities struggled to admit patients due to overcapacity which the Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin blamed on doctors “lack of will” as the government sought to attract practitioners from neighbouring nations.
The government have also ramped up propaganda on traditional family values and patriarchy in response to challenges from progressive movements. The Polish Ministry of Health’s recent campaign for “sexual abstinence” and “mutually faithful relationships” to prevent HIV were described as outdated by serval commentators. The political pressures facing the party led Kaczyński to claim “evil is attacking our country” at a church service protested by the woman’s movement earlier this month. The latter statement indicating the political pressure faced by him and his party.
The wave of activism across the country is also influencing a cultural change in the nation. The Polish Catholic Church is experiencing an increasing number of apostasies following its influence on the abortion ruling and the revelations of clerical sexual cover-ups. Amongst 18 – 29 year olds only 9% view the church positively indication an upcoming cultural shift in the nation.
Organisation and international solidarity
The work of Strajk Kobiet is expanding and developing into a broader political force creating an opening for a rejuvenated left. Following the Autumn 2020 protests, the movement began expanding their programme beyond the abortion laws and made wider political demands for increased healthcare spending, secularisation, LGBT rights, green policies and animal rights, the abolition of precarious work, and the return of a “proper constitutional court.”
The movement is supported by its own symbolism and language forming a political counter-culture in contrast to PiS and the Catholic Church. With the nation’s main political opposition Platforma Obywatelska (Civic Platform) spouting neoliberal dogma and being described by Daniel Tilles as a “zombie party”, the women’s movement has an opportunity redefine Poland.
The international organisation and solidarity of many women in response to Poland’s abortion ban is inspiring for socialists and the international women’s movement. Women in neighbouring countries such as Germany and the Czech Republic have used charities and support networks such as Abortions without Borders to help Polish women gain access to safe terminations. These networks continue to be vital in assisting vulnerable women as well as advocating women’s right to choose regardless of location.
As socialists we should continue to provide international support to Polish women and communities in their struggle against the ultra-right. International solidarity and assistance are crucial as this movement develops.
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