Poland: Mass Demonstrations Against Anti-Abortion Laws

we+want+doctors%2C+not+policemen

“we want doctors, not policemen”

“I wish I could abort my government” 

“We will not be victimized.”

These are just two of the many signs that were visible at the recent pro-abortion protests in Poland. 

On the 22nd of October 2020, the law and justice court in Poland announced that abortions due to foetal defects were unconstitutional. Previously, abortions in Poland were legal in cases of rape, incest, pregnancies that posed a risk to the mother’s health, or when there was a high chance of severe foetal impairment. Abortions in cases of severe foetal impairment made up roughly 98% of all abortions in the country. However since the law and justice court has banned abortions due to foetal impairment, abortions have effectively been banned. 

This new ruling resulted in hundreds of thousands of people protesting all over Poland for days on end, blocking roads, bridges and chanting anti-government slogans.  One group of women went as far as dressing up in red gowns and white bonnets, symbolizing the subjugated women in the popular novel and television series “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale”, from which the women dressed up as is set in a futuristic dystopia where men and women have been put into specific roles. These could be considered a regression from where we are today since women in “The Handmaid’s Tale” are considered babymakers and have therefore been stripped of their rights. The women dressed up as characters to show that the same is happening to them; they are being stripped of their rights. 

The protesters have mostly been young adults who claim that the new abortion law violates their rights. However, the older generation has also expressed concerns for the new ban. Protest organizers are now urging the government to reverse the law and instead impose a liberal abortion law. Imposing a liberal abortion law would mean that women legally get to choose whether or not they want to have an abortion, no matter the situation. One such law would allow women to decide no matter the condition. It would also potentially decrease the risk of mental health or physical health issues after a woman has had an abortion. These mass protests, however, have led to a large-scale spread of COVID-19, resulting in a major spike in daily infections which are already reaching new records every day. 

Poland was already considered to have the most restrictive laws on abortion (which were passed in 1993) in Europe, compared to other countries such as Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, and France, all of whom have a liberal abortion law.  Yet this is the first time in 17 years they have been able to make a change.

As mentioned this isn’t the first time the Polish government has tried to toughen the abortion laws. In 2016, over 100,000 women protested to stop one such attempt from happening. The same thing occurred when the parliament tried tightening the law again in 2018. The parliament then was faced with heavy demonstrations which are now known as the “Black Friday” protests. Demonstrators say that tightening the law will cause a serious risk for women’s health and lives. “This bill would further hinder women, particularly those from low-income and rural communities, from accessing safe abortion care”, a statement from protesters

These new abortion laws have also led to many women trying to get abortions outside the country. Women’s rights groups have estimated that roughly 80,000 to 120,000 Polish women seek abortions abroad. An abortion clinic in Berlin said that it is receiving an increase in the number of Polish callers since the newly imposed abortion ban. Another abortion charity, Abortion Without Borders (AWB) has helped over 40 Polish women get abortions abroad every month, double as much as their monthly average. Yet not only do people struggle to get abortions abroad, but getting a legal abortion in Poland is also a challenge. Many women applying for legal abortions can still be rejected by doctors, and there are lengthy waits. 

Implementing these abortion laws is a women’s right violation, a human rights violation. Everybody has the right to choose what they do with their body and that includes getting an abortion, however, restricting the conditions under which someone can get an abortion is restricting their right to choose at all.

“Now it’s not really just about abortion, it’s a protest about the loss of humanity.” – Actress Emma Herdzik