In comparison to the rest of Europe, Poland is considered to have one of the most restrictive abortion laws. This may surprise some people, as this is thought to be a Western country where reproductive rights are more forward-thinking than those stereotypically of the East. But what exactly are those laws?
Amnesty International state that “it is one of only two of 27 European Union member states that do not allow abortion on request or on broad social grounds.” This now means that from the 30th October 2020, abortion is no longer a wide choice for Polish women’s healthcare, and is only legal in cases of: rape, incest, when the woman’s life or health is at risk, or if the foetus is irreparably damaged (but illegal if it is diagnosed with only a serious or irreversible birth defect).
However, Polish women are not taking this violation lightly. At the end of October, approximately 100,000 people set out to protest in the Polish capital, Warsaw, against the government’s ruling on abortion rights. This included sit-ins in Catholic churches, disrupting Sunday services all over the country. What I find significant here is that, like the Black Lives Matter protests earlier this year, women and others felt so strongly about this ruling that they decided to protest against this proposition in the middle of a pandemic, and rightly so.
To cut back on the legality of abortions is criminal and fatal, as it is known that women who cannot have access to legal abortions resort to ‘backstreet’ doctors where they are grievously harmed, or even killed. To vote against abortions does not mean they will stop, it means dangerous, illegal abortions increase, and on a massive scale. This has been seen for decades in countries such as Poland and Northern Ireland, where thousands of women go abroad for abortions outside of the strict laws that have already been in place.
To vote for this new, more restrictive law in the middle of a pandemic, where healthcare is already fragile, is irresponsible and unjust. This will cause women to travel further, even across countries, to achieve the proper healthcare that they deserve, and possibly spreading Coronavirus at the same time. Still, I do not believe it is the protestors who are at fault here, as what other choice do Polish women have if they wish to gain their rights over what they do with their own body?
Due to the extent of the protests, the Polish government have delayed putting the abortion ban in place. Although this is not considered as a victory for Polish women just yet, it has certainly surprised the Polish government. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has called for talks with the protestors to suggest a new proposal that aligns with the government’s status on abortion, and consequently Poland’s traditional Catholic views; but I do not think he understands why these protests are taking place.
To deny a woman an abortion is to deny her autonomy of her own body, and she should be able to choose what she is going to put her body through, physically and mentally. Clearly I attribute myself as pro-choice, but that does not necessarily mean ‘pro-abortion’. The key word here is ‘choice’, and it should not be up to the patriarchal government on what a woman does with her own body.
It is clear that Polish women will continue to protest their beliefs, until a law that protects them in a suitable way has been decided. They have simply had enough of the oppression of their bodily rights being taken away from them for a while now, and it is finally their time to stand up. Men such as Morawiecki need to listen to these disputes and give themselves a female perspective if they ever want this unrest to settle, and give the women of Poland what they have deserved for a long time.
By Natalie Horrobin
Image: by Gregorz Żukowski via Flickr