As Poland grapples with the ongoing pandemic, a recent shift in favour of stricter abortion laws has resulted in mass protests in its capital. Two members of One Young World’s Polish community share their personal perspectives on the new ruling.
Views reflect those of the writers and not One Young World.
Image Source: Reuters
The protests had erupted due to the Constitutional Court's statement verdict on the polish abortion law, but the situation is much more complex. The polish women’s movement rises against the polish government and its incompetence in handling the COVID-19 crisis, as well as its overall rule over the past 5 years.
The timing is far from ideal. The public healthcare system is on the brink of collapse due to the lifted restrictions of the past few months and a lack of proper planning and resource management on the government’s side.
Some of you might have already read articles explaining that the protests are a response to the Polish Constitutional Court’s recent ruling claiming that an abortion law introduced back in 1993 is unconstitutional. The law made it possible for a woman to terminate a pregnancy if: the pregnancy was an effect of rape, it posed a threat to the woman’s health or life, or that there were severe foetal defects (a premise which accounts for 96% of all legal abortions in Poland). Recent ruling claims that the latter is unconstitutional, which in practice means that almost all forms of abortion will be banned.
In the past 5 years of ultra-conservative ‘Law and Justice’ party rule, the topic of an abortion ban has been brought up multiple times causing mass protests for women’s rights protection. The first mass protest took place back in 2016 and was one of the biggest civic movements at the time. It was then when a Polish Women’s Strike (Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet) organisation was set up and soon turned out to be the leading voice of polish women standing up for their rights. Bear in mind, these rights are already limited as per European standards. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, there are only six countries in Europe which retain highly restrictive abortion laws and do not permit abortion on request. These countries include Poland, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, and San Marino.
Poles have been protesting for 10 days now and the October 22nd event was the largest in more than 30 years. More than 100,000 people turned up in the Warsaw city centre and marched to Żoliborz, where the leader of the ‘Law and Justice' party, Jarosław Kaczyński, lives. It is no surprise to anyone in Poland, that despite not being appointed to any formal position in the polish government until very recently, he’s been the de facto leader of the country, with most of the Law and Justice politicians, including the President and the Prime Minister of Poland, following his vision and orders.
This has changed the country significantly in the last 5 years. Despite a fairly good economic situation, there have been countless disturbing measures enacted to increase political influence over state institutions. An overhaul of the judiciary system, appointment of loyalist figures to the highest public roles (including judges of the Constitutional Court), misuse or waste of public funds, alliance with the Church, far-right organisations and LGBT+ rights violation are just some of the signs of societal re-engineering introduced by the Law and Justice. The recent Constitutional Courts’ rule is yet another move played in a political game, completely disregarding respect to actual human suffering caused by it.
Protesters hold signs that proclaim - “Women’s hell”, “My body, my choice”, “I think, I feel, I decide”. The protesters do not mince their words. Poles are standing up to something much bigger than the abortion laws. The public support for the ‘Law and Justice’ party has decreased by between 5 to 9% to approximately 31% - the largest drop in 6 years.
The key electorate of the ‘Law and Justice’, mainly older and poorly educated citizens, are still strongly supportive of them. However what we are witnessing now is an uprising of those who were silent before. We are witnessing the birth of a new societal and political power - the youth. The youth that is strongly voicing their opinions on what reality they believe in.
Revolution is in the air. We are still not sure yet where this will take us but the Constitutional Court’s ruling and the subsequent protests have marked a turning point in Polish history which will never be the same again.
Image Source : Katarzyna Wszoła
Poland is one of the most conservative countries in Europe. However, the new abortion law should be perceived as unsettling and unacceptable even in a country as conservative as this.
Every proposition of limiting access to abortion causes public outcry. In 2016, a bill that aimed at banning abortions entirely was initiated by a group of more than 500,000 Polish citizens. This proposition sparked protests across the country and as a consequence, the Polish Parliament rejected the proposal.
It should be underlined that this time, changes in law were made in an extraordinary way. The government did not propose any bill, we did not have public consultation and we are in the middle of a global pandemic. How is that even possible?
The ruling party PiS (Law and Justice) won the elections in 2015 and since then has been violating the separation of powers. One example is the Constitutional Court. Most of the judges are associated with the ruling party while two of them were members of PiS. Furthermore, Jarosław Kaczyński (leader of PiS) admits that he really enjoys socializing with the president of the Constitutional Court. These facts lead us to conclude that decisions made by the Constitutional Court are highly influenced by the governing party.
As you can see, it is not only about abortion but it is also about the rule of law in Poland. The ruling party decided to introduce changes in the abortion law through the back door without any public consultation. Also, during the presidential campaign of Andrzej Duda, they fought against the LGBT+ community. They have no respect for people who think differently than they do.
Polish women will not stop protesting. We are aware of the risk we take when we participate in the protests during a pandemic. Unfortunately, this is our only chance to be heard. We fight for our rights, for democracy and for our freedom.
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