Wednesday

19th Sep 2018

Polish women rebel against abortion law

  • Black protest in Paris, on Saturday 1 October. (Photo: Eric Maurice)

Thousands of Polish women are set to strike on Monday (3 October) against a proposal to further restrict their right to abortion.

Some say they will form a human chain around the Palace of Culture in an effort to reclaim the “phallic symbol of Warsaw”. Others threatened to withdraw all their savings from banks. Women cyclists have vowed to block the streets of Wroclaw.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • "Did I miscarry or kill", a woman wrote on her placard. (Photo: Agnieszka Graff)

Companies, universities and city councils including Czestochowa, Gdansk, Lodz, Poznan and Warsaw have given female employees and students the green light to strike.

Those who weren’t able to take the day off - teachers, for instance - can protest by donning a black dress or pinning a black ribbon to their outfit.

Poland already has one of the strictest abortion regimes in the world.

Women can legally have an abortion when the life or health of the mother is at risk, when the foetus is malformed, or when the pregnancy is the result of a sex crime.

MPs are currently examining a bill, brought to them by a citizens’ initiative last Friday, which would tighten the law further.

The bill suggests punishing women who abort and anyone who helps them with a prison sentence of between three months and five years.

It has been the subject of tense debate for months, but was only recently put on parliament's agenda. MPs voted to debate it further.

’Icelandic strike’

Monday’s rebellion was sparked when award-winning actress Krystyna Janda posted a link to a news story on a 1975 initiative taken by Icelandic women in protest at wage discrimination.

Some 90 percent of Iceland’s women boycotted work, refused to cook and ignored their children for a day, which went down in history as the "long Friday".

Fans of Janda quickly organised a Facebook event, to which hundreds of thousands of women have been invited.

"I read the proposal and realised that with such a bill, I would have been dead since 1980," Janda said in an interview.

“I struggled so hard to get my children, twice doctors had to save my life in the last minute because of ectopic pregnancies [when the foetus develops outside the womb],” she said.

Proponents of the proposal, a group of religious lawyers from the think tank Ordo Iuris, say people have misunderstood their intentions.

“The aim is to stop discrimination against children before they are born,” Joanna Banasiuk, an Opus Dei affiliated assistant professor of law, told parliament when presenting the initiative.

Ordo Iuris promises the project won’t end pre-natal health checks and send women to jail for miscarriages.

But critics are not reassured.

Abortion underground

Feminist activist Agnieszka Graff told this website the current laws were so strict that they already amounted to a de facto ban.

The latest available figures say 1,812 legal abortions were carried out in 2014. Pro-choice organisations estimate that some 50,000 to 200,000 illegal procedures are carried out every year.

“A majority of people supported the ban, while the government let the abortion 'underground' work in peace,” Graff said.

“Women were being humiliated, of course, and had to foot the bill. But they didn’t die, so there was no public outrage.”

If MPs push the bill through, the state will have to crack down on the underground, she said.

“Doctors won’t even refer women for pre-natal testing because this could be seen as facilitating abortions,” Graff predicted.

She described it as an “inhuman proposal” with almost no support, even from the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government. However, she said PiS were likely to back it because they “owed” their right-wing Catholic supporters.

Protests and plenary debate

A poll published last Friday showed that 15 percent of Poles would like to take part in Monday’s strike and that another 35 percent supported the idea. Fourteen percent were against, while the rest were undecided or didn’t care.

The survey also showed that only 11 percent of the population backed the abortion ban. As many PiS voters - 24 percent - want to liberalise the current law as those who wanted to tighten it.

More than 150 events will take place in big cities and small towns on Monday, with another 50 abroad - including one in Iceland. Some started over the weekend.

Thousands of black-clad protesters went through Lodz and even more gathered outside the Polish parliament in Warsaw.

Women displayed signs of solidarity, but also rage.

“PiS off”, “You cun’t”, “I am so angry that I even went to a protest”, their placards said.

They were angry with PiS and the other parties in the Polish parliament, which they said didn't stand up for women's rights.

“Where were you for eight years,” they shouted at politicians from the Civic Platform (PO), including former prime minister Ewa Kopacz, who came to the protest.

The European Parliament will also debate Polish women’s plight on Wednesday.

Poland’s prime minister Beata Szydlo said that the EU had not drawn lessons from Brexit and kept on "dealing with made-up problems".

Janusz Lewandowski, Civic Platform’s leader in the European Parliament, also said the issue “doesn’t fall under the EU treaties”.

But Malin Bjork, a Swedish far-left MEP who was one of the initiative-takers to the debate, told EUobserver that the parliament was "not just a legislative organ, but also one that forms public opinion".

Graff, the Polish feminist, said the EU had too long treated Poland’s almost total clampdown on women’s rights as “cultural diversity”.

“Maybe it’s wishful thinking from my side, but I hope this is the moment when liberal Europe realises it must start defending itself,” she said.

Poland 'changing for the worse' for Muslims and refugees

Chechen refugees have been coming to Poland for decades. Tatar Muslims have lived there for centuries. But with the new government trying to whip up fear of foreigners, "things are changing for the worse”.

Women shake Poland's pillars of power

Polish women are marching again this Sunday and Monday. They could succeed where the opposition, the European Commission and other protests failed, and redraw Poland's political map.

Feature

Gay rights at heart of Poland's value conflict

Anti-gay statements are part of an anti-EU narrative propagated by Poland's ruling Law and Justice party. But only a few politicians from the opposition are willing to challenge the image of Poland as a homophobic country.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  4. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  5. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  6. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  7. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  8. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  9. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  10. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  12. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want

Latest News

  1. Real Brexit progress needed by October, Barnier says
  2. Poland to face EU top court on rule of law
  3. Austria's EU presidency: a bridge over troubled water?
  4. EU promotes 'Egypt model' to reduce migrant numbers
  5. Tensions mount over Kosovo-Serbia deal
  6. New book: Why war is coming
  7. EU parliament will not budge on office expenses
  8. Why Orban's project to reshape EU politics will be unsuccessful

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  2. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  4. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  5. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  8. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  10. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us