The fight is on. Abortion rights

By Gosia Rokicka


Photo: Michał Stadnicki. The main banner says “Women on Strike”. The smaller: “A rapist is not a father”.

On Friday 23rd March 2018 Polish women (and everyone else who supports the cause) will speak out against Polish parliament’s plan to limit the already restricted access to legal abortion even further. Again. I can’t believe we still have to protest this shit.


A short recap for those who are not clued in about what’s going on. Since 1993 Poland has had one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, which allows to access the procedure legally in three situations: when the woman’s life is in danger, when there is a risk of serious and irreversible damage to the foetus and where the pregnancy is a result of a crime (rape or incest). This state of affairs is commonly known in Poland as “the compromise”, which for an average foreigner probably doesn’t make any sense, since a compromise requires at least two sides settling a dispute, right? Well, in this case the disputing sides were the then Polish government and the Catholic Church. Essentially, the government traded women’s reproductive rights for the support of the Church during the political transition in 1980s. Cute, eh? But that was a long time ago, a whole generation grew up since then and everyone got used to “the compromise”.

Except that since 2015 Poland has had a deeply conservative, evangelical (in the Trump-era definition of the word) government, running the country with a parliamentary majority that did not require forming a coalition. I know that some countries, for example the UK where I currently live, see so-called hung parliaments as disasters waiting to happen. Well, in Poland a lack of a coalition is a disaster already happening full steam ahead as there is no one to formally stop batshit crazy people from running around “like an ape with a razor” as we say it in Polish. You may have heard of the Białowieża Forest, of the ruling PiS (Law and Justice) party alienating and offending other countries and nations (the French, Jews, Germans…) and of the absolutely hilarious San Escobar but the majority of what’s going on is firewalled by our obscure language. Not many foreigners follow Polish media, not many are interested in the shenanigans of a state that doesn’t really pose a serious threat. In the end we have no red button to press so any news die quickly with a shrug and a passing comment: “Oh, well… plonkers” and the gaze reverts to the usual suspects — Russia, North Korea or more recently the United States of America.

But this time it has to be different. Polish women are facing a serious attack on their rights for the second time within a couple of years. In October 2016 Poland experienced a flood of marches and strikes in support of women’s rights and in opposition to a parliamentary project of a total ban on abortion. Catholic Church removed its support for the ban after the alarm was raised that the change in law would result in women being jailed for accessing abortion illegally. Politicians and anti-choice extremists backed off then but it was foolish to think they would abandon the idea for ever.

Fast forward to March 2018 and we need to start marching again. This time the Parliamentary Committee for Justice and Human Rights (cool name, eh?) opted for a slightly altered approach. Its project titled “Stop Abortion” focuses solely on one case: banning abortion when there is a risk of serious and irreversible damage to the foetus (which in practice is the vast majority of legal procedures carried out in Poland at present). The creators of the project knew they wouldn’t get any support for the other two cases — there is no way to create a narrative compelling enough to win people over women sacrificing their lives to carry pregnancies to term and it’s very difficult to tug at the heartstrings when there is a disgusting crime lurking in the background. So this time the weight shifted.

I can see the complexity of that. “Serious and irreversible damage” is not black and white, medicine progresses with accelerated speed and yes, “miracles” sometimes happen. Also, a normalization of the default removal of serious disabilities changes social landscapes and attitudes. I am not overlooking or disrespecting any views just because they are different from mine but I do require a minimum respect for the listener — a consistent narrative. (That’s why for example I thoroughly recommend watching Sally Phillips’ documentary on Down’s syndrome and parents’ choice and consent. Seriously, watch it. It’s compelling, thought-provoking and moving).

So how would we expect a state such as Poland to create a consistent narrative around their “Stop Abortion” project? Let’s answer a few questions.

Is Poland a country where:

– there is an open and un-biased access to age-appropriate sexual and reproductive education?

– there is an easy, well-promoted and free (unpaid) access to all available methods of contraception?

– there is an extensive medical, financial and psychological assistance to parents of children with disabilities?

– there is a well-functioning system of obtaining child support payments from parents who are not raising the child full time (disabled or not) and a well-managed public fund for these children who for whatever reason can’t receive the payments from their parent?

– there is a legal and social framework that allows people to enjoy their family life regardless of their sexual orientation?

– there is an extensive network of support centres, day-cares, respite places etc. for families with disabled children?

Is it?

No, it isn’t.

So maybe the Parliamentary Committee for Justice and Human Rights is preparing a comprehensive introduction of all above points, accessible to all and free from any faith-based bias?

Hell, no.

There is also one more problematic issue here. You see, I know very well families with more or less severely disabled children. They are more loving, happier and “better” families than a lot of those with healthy kids, believe me. Anti-choice extremists want us to believe that everyone who suspects a slightest “malfunction” in their foetus runs straight to an abortion clinic. In that way they are trying to shift the weight of the discussion from where it should be firmly put — on the issue of choice. Because you see, myself, my friends, the families I just mentioned, most likely also you, who are reading these words, are coming from the position of privilege. Yes, we are. For any of my female friends in Poland the problem of unwanted pregnancy (unwanted for whatever reason really) is the issue she needs to discuss with herself and maybe her partner — her social situation, values, ethical choices, financial considerations, maybe religious beliefs — personal stuff, really. The Parliamentary Committee for Justice and Human Rights has nothing to do with it. If after personal considerations my Polish friend decides she wants to terminate the pregnancy, the only things she needs are a few hundred euros (which she can take from her own bank account or borrow from someone in her social circle) and a ticket to Germany or Czech Republic. Resourcefulness and access to money are privileges. The biggest privilege though is the ability to allow yourself to make decisions, to act in your own best interest, to exercise common sense. TO CHOOSE. I don’t know about you but I’ve been taking this privilege for granted for a long time now.

So we need to protest this new project with all our might because in reality it doesn’t protect anyone. Instead, it punishes those who are already vulnerable and privilege-deprived. Justice may be blind but she has a damn good social radar. (Just think about one famous case. Do you think Steven Avery would find himself where he is now — in prison on a life sentence for the second time — if he didn’t belong to a class gracefully called by Americans “white trash”? This is a digression, nothing to do with reproductive rights, but if you’ve never heard of Steven, watch this and brace yourself to become very, very angry). For the vulnerable people law can mean life or death. For the privileged ones it can become… how to put it? “Advisory”.

If you want to act and you’re in Warsaw on Friday, come to the demonstration which is most likely going to be big. There are also going to be demos in other Polish cities and abroad, for example in London, UK and Brussels, Belgium. If you can’t come, share articles (including this one, if you like it), information, posters and slogans. Add tags #CzarnyPiątek #StrajkKobiet #JedziemyNaWarszawę #CzarnyProtest

Photo: Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet.

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