Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Abortion ban: the power of Polish protesters

I tend to think that in this day and age in the Western countries and especially in Europe, reproductive rights are a given. Alas, I am often reminded that it is not the case, and women in Europe - like those around the world - still have to fight to gain or keep their rights to contraception and abortion.

In Poland, historical events are taking place right now. As The New York Times reports,
Poland's existing abortion law is already one of the most restrictive in Europe. Abortion is permitted in only three cases : a severe fetal anomaly, a threat to the mother's health and life, or a pregnancy from rape or sexual abuse.
Because the existing law was not restrictive enough in the eyes of a civil organization called Stop Abortion, they proposed a new legislation to criminalize all abortions. In other words, this legilsation would impose a complete and total ban on abortion for women and doctors, who would face up to five years of jail time.

The proposition got enough signatures and support from the Polish conservative party (PiS) and the Catholic Church that it was considered by the Parliament. The power and influence of the Catholic Church on lawmakers in Catholic countries is considerable (see this excellent blog post about Women in Ireland).

On Monday, October 3rd, about thirty thousand men and women all wearing black clothes protested in the streets of multiple Polish cities. They protested with slogans such as "My body my choice", "Women just want to have FUN-damental rights". Many walked with hangers in their hands. Poland's Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski seemed unimpressed by the mass protest as he declared on the radio on the same day:
Let them have their fun [...] by dressing up, screaming silly slogans and vulgarities [they are] making a mockery of very important issues (The Guardian).
Nonetheless, today conservative lawmakers reversed their position and voted against the ban. The same members of Parliament backed the proposed legislation just days ago. It is thus undeniable that the protesters were successful in being heard.

Still, the new law is not yet buried, because
the lower house of parliament will still vote tomorrow to either reject the bill completely or return it to the committee for more work (Slate).
However, the organization Stop Abortion seems to have lost hope, as they casually declared murdered children lost. The Guardian notes that the Polish Senate speaker suggested a compromise law that would only ban the fetal anomaly exception. This is still a possibility,  in which case, protests are likely to continue.

I think it is important to notice how great an impact the Polish protesters had. They were heard and will keep on protesting if they have to, which I find inspiring. They took the power they had and collectively managed to change politicians' votes.


Louise Trainor said...

Flamnigo, thank you for this very informative, well-researched post. It is inspiring to hear of the impact the Polish citizens have had on their government. It reaffirms the idea that when we unite forces and stand up for a common belief, we can have a profound effect. This lead me to consider my own country's law against abortion.
In Ireland, abortion is against the law unless the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother. (See ). However, in recent years, the pro-choice side of the debate have taken to the streets of Dublin City to protest outside Parliament. A pinnacle decision was made by the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations in June of this year, which declared Ireland's Eighth Amendment against abortion incompatible with human rights. ( See ).
The movement to "Repeal the Eighth" has gathered significant momentum in the previous few months. It is clear that a referendum is needed before the Irish government can change the current provision. When this referendum will take place remains unclear, however I hope to be home at the time so I can cast my vote.
It is enlightening to hear of other European countries who are lobbying for the same historical change to be made to their constitution. It is indeed an exciting time for Irish and Polish citizens but mostly for the women who's voices have not been heard in the past and who's lives will be changed if this referendum is held and passed. I guess we will have to wait and see what the future holds!

Flamingo said...

Thanks for your informative comment, Louise! I actually got interested in the topic thanks to the previous post about Ireland because before that I had no idea abortion was still illegal in these European countries! I then found out it is mainly because of the Catholic background, which both Poland and Ireland share. So I was eager to know how this would evolve in Poland and was agreeably surprised to learn that the protesters actually got heard.
It is encouraging to read that the UN is getting involved, maybe some international pressure could make things move faster. It does not look good for a country to have a law incompatible with human rights.

I recently watched an illuminating hidden-camera video by French TV journalists ( It's about pharmacists who basically refuse to provide minors with the morning after pill, even though they are legally bound to do so since 2002 in France. They even said that this contraceptive method could lead to infertility and one pharmacist refused to sell condoms. They were practicing their profession according to their beliefs rather than the law. I was deeply shocked to find out that this is going on in France in 2016! It made me realize that even when the law is clear and in favor of reproductive rights, it does not mean that it is well applied.
Keep us posted on developments in Ireland :)

Joan Maya said...

Flamingo, thank you for such an informative post. I had heard about the protesters on the news but I did not know the background behind the bill. The most inspiring part about the story was the fact that the citizens felt passionate enough to take to the streets in protest to show the law makers that they did not support the bill - and the lawmakers actually listened! Maybe because I am cynic when it comes to politics, but I was actually surprised that the lawmakers in Poland listened to what the voters wanted and didn't "stick to their guns". I am not sure if lawmakers would do the same in the United States.

Louise - thank you for bringing up the UN Human Rights Committee decision that found Ireland's Eighth Amendment incompatible with human rights. I don't know why but I have never thought of abortion as a "human right"! Looking at the article that you posted, the law would have in opposition of human rights because it would require a woman "to travel for an abortion in a situation of fatal foetal abnormality."

This discussion also reminded me of an article that I just read about the future of the pro-life movement in the United States (See While the image I have of what a pro-life supporter is one that is older and conservative this article talks about how the people leading the pro-life movement are now young, women, and identify as feminists!

Julie Maguire said...


Thank you for such an informative post about the traditions and practices in Poland.

While I had always thought the law in Ireland was stringent, it shocks me to see just how severe it is in comparison to other nations. It has struck me as you mentioned the consideration of Poland as having one of the strictest laws that our laws are harsher still.

It is often acknowledged by the Irish pro-choice movement that a woman who obtains an abortion can receive more jail time than the rapist who impregnated her. To many this could be considered outrageous. To many this is simply outrageous and it makes me question, is this a strictly religious-based law or is it merely sexist?

The story of the Polish protesters has given me hope for the aforementioned 'Repeal the Eighth' movement in Louise's comment that is currently ongoing in Ireland.