Poland: women’s rights, not church law!

Submitted by Matthew on 28 February, 2018 - 10:04 Author: Magdalena Zielinska

The ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party is backing a law to further restrict abortion in Poland. Polish feminist Magdalena Zielinska spoke to Solidarity.

Currently abortion is only legal in three cases: when it is the result of rape or incest; where it threatens a women’s life; or when the foetus is sick or damaged.

This set-up is described as a “compromise”. But it is not a compromise with women: it is a compromise between the church and the state. We have church law!

The Polish government is currently discussing a ban on what they call “eugenic abortion”, where doctors detect health problems in an unborn child. That is the basis on which the vast majority of legal abortions take place: after all, it is extremely difficult to prove cases of rape.

There was a famous case two years ago in which a pre-natal scan discovered that a foetus would be extremely ill when it was born. The mother wanted to get an abortion, which was her legal right. But the doctor, a conservative Catholic, said he needed to do more tests, and played for time until it was too late for a legal abortion. The child was born without a brain and didn’t survive: but the doctor was very proud of himself, and said that it was good that the child got to experience motherly love. The mindset is unbelievably twisted!

Two years ago, the government wanted to ban abortion completely. There were attempts by a conservative grouping called Ordo Iuris, and they lobbied for a bill to ban abortion, even in cases of rape, incest or a threat to a mother’s life. It was very cruel, and this is what sparked the “Black Monday” protests. It mobilised women across Poland.

Abortion was entirely legal until 1993. Since then a pro-choice lobby has fought to un-restrict abortion.

In 2016 the wave of protests was huge: it was bigger than anyone had anticipated. The government got scared; international media were all over them, and the wave of protest was so huge that they dropped the legislation.

But there was another proposal, from pro-choice groups, which included legalising abortion until 12 weeks of pregnancy; and lots of other positive changes, like extra access to contraception and sex education in schools.

Sexual education in schools at the moment is a joke, it consists of people who normally teach religious studies telling students that homosexuality is a sin and the best contraception is abstinence… This bill was rejected at the first reading.

A few months ago the proposal to restrict eugenic abortion went to parliament and the pro-choice groups put together a new counter-proposal: it was pro-contraception, sexual education and so on, and on 8 January it was rejected in the first vote again. But the liberal centre, with ten MPs from a centrist party which claims to be in opposition to the current government, abstained in the vote, and the proposal fell by exactly ten votes.

The restriction on “eugenic abortion” hasn’t yet been passed. But what has been restricted is access to the morning-after pill. The doctor can refuse to give you a prescription for the morning-after pill. This forces women to drive across country, shop around, and wind up waiting over 48 hours.

Just before this bill came into effect, lots of women went into pharmacies and bought up morning-after pills. So there is now a network of self-help: a woman who needs a pill finds a woman who has got one, and then when she’s taken it, she has a bit more time in which to try to obtain a replacement.

The next wave of protests will start on 8 March, International Women’s Day. In 2016, Polish feminists got in touch with feminists around the world to talk about joint activity on 8 March. After we defeated the last bill, a lot of the movement died back. But there is a large core of women who are still active.

Involvement in the 2016 movement changed the way a lot of people thought: it turned people onto politics, made them understand that politics is about everyone, about you and me.