‘This is War’: Why Women in Poland Are Fuming Over Abortion Rights

Poland saw its largest-ever protests after the court ruled abortions on ground of foetal defects ‘unconstitutional’.

4 min read
Poland saw its biggest ever protests in decades on 30 October. 

Paulina Zagorska and her husband are planning to have a baby. They've agreed that she will get an abortion if anything is wrong with the foetus.

"It's because we don't have any close family who would look after such a child in case anything happened to us. I'm simply worried that my government will force me to give birth to a sick child," the 32-year-old lecturer told The Quint.

On Friday, 30 October, she was among the hundred thousand women who marched for seven hours in Warsaw in the biggest-ever protests against Poland’s ruling right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS).

Earlier on 22 October, Poland’s constitutional tribunal deemed abortions on grounds of foetal defects – including Down’s Syndrome – unconstitutional, resulting in massive uproar across the country that has one of the most restrictive laws in Europe.
‘This is War’: Why Women in Poland Are Fuming Over Abortion Rights
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/Paulina)

According to data from the Polish Ministry of Health, 98 percent of the 1,100 legal abortions carried out in Poland every year are cases of fatal foetal defects, which means the new ruling is a near complete ban on abortions in the conservative country.

‘This is War’: Why Women in Poland Are Fuming Over Abortion Rights
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

"I cannot believe we have to fight for this. Now I feel like we're not in 21st century, and not in Europe. I can't let the government and the church make a decision as important as this for me," said 26-year-old Maja Tobis, an official at the French customs office and an anti-natalist.

"My point of view on having children is obviously different, but what matters is it has to a woman's decision. I cannot imagine the despair of someone who is forced to take care of a child with congenital birth defects who in all probability will not survive," she added.

Not the First Time

This is not the first time Poland is up in arms against the ruling government. In 2016, the country witnessed a strong wave of protests against a draft law calling for a total ban on abortions.

The PiS in 2016 had proposed the draft, in a bid to tighten the 1993 law on abortions and share a good rapport with the church.

Women had marched the streets in black clothes – signifying that they were mourning their reproductive rights. Thousands stopped going to work, stopped engaging in domestic chores – forcing the Law and Justice party to cave in.

Now four years later, with a fresh ruling against abortions, the legislators from the right-wing party once again have the power to approve the draconian law and make it a reality.

"To force women to give birth to children who are malformed, heavily handicapped, who will die shortly after birth is inhuman. Especially, the fact that there is no money to help those women after. The government will not care for the sick children after their birth," said Joanna Giemza, a 31-year-old data scientist based in France.

‘This is War’: Why Women in Poland Are Fuming Over Abortion Rights
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Michal Sierminski, a pro-choice supporter said “A lot of people – not just young women – defend the right to abortion as a fundamental human right. But it’s not the only demand of the protests. People said ‘enough’ to homophobia, to racism, to sexism, to radical nationalism, to clericalism – all of which is very characteristic to Poland after 2015 when Pis came to power. ”

Protests in the Time of Coronavirus

Led by the All-Poland Women's Strike, pro-choice supporters mobilised 400 demonstrations across Poland, says local media.

From painting the streets of Warsaw in red, to wearing clothes embossed with a red lightning bolt – which has come to symbolise the movement – the pro-choice supporters took to the streets combating fear of contracting coronavirus to declare what they call "war" against the government.

“We wore masks to the protests, so we have been responsible that way. But I’ll tell you what’s more dangerous than coronavirus – religious fundamentalism,” said Tobis.

Zagorska, who travelled all the way to Warsaw to partake in the protests said, "I'm obviously worried about contracting COVID-19, but this fear does not stop me from protesting."

Protesting in heavy police presence amid the fear of being detained, with security forces brought in to avoid clashes with right-wing activists, she said "it's ridiculous that the army was protecting churches rather than peaceful protesters. Can't believe the government and church officials treat us like idiots."

Now in its 11th day, the protests are far from receding.

"I think they won't get away with this. If the women don't abolish the government, COVID will," Zagorska said.

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