Poland: near-total abortion ban has become a reality

PRO-CHOICE: activists have called for large street protests in major Polish cities and outside Poland. They are a continuation of mass demonstrations that took place in October when the decision was announced, like this one in Edinburgh. Photo: Craig Maclean

by Magdalena Grzymkowska

· An objectionable near-total ban on abortion in Poland has taken effect, after a judicial government-controlled body’s decision came into force on 27 January, 2021.

This is a result of almost 30 years of campaigning by far-right activists and politicians as well as the Catholic Church.

According to the decision of the Constitutional Court, a 1993 law allowing abortion in cases of severe and irreversible foetal abnormalities was unconstitutional.

As 98 per cent of all abortions in Poland were carried out on those grounds the vast majority of pregnancy terminations will now be a criminal act.

The pro-choice activists have called for large street protests in major Polish cities and outside Poland. They are a continuation of mass demonstrations that took place in October when the decision was announced.

The timing of the announcement in the middle of the deadly second wave of the pandemic was not coincidental as the Polish government instantly blamed activists for the rising number of Covid-19 cases.

However, the grass-roots battle for access to professional, non-judgmental and free reproductive health is not over. Last week a draft of the law allowing abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy regardless of the reason was presented by Marta Lempart, the leader of the Women’s Strike.

She said: “We are at the moment of an absolute nightmare, an almost total ban on abortion in Poland has become the fact, but we do not lose hope.

“Like our sisters from Argentina, we will go all the way, we will try as many times as it takes.
“In the end, what we wish for is standard in Europe, and is becoming standard around the world.”

BACKWARDS STEP: the vast majority of pregnancy terminations in Poland will now be a criminal act. Photo: Craig Maclean

From human rights to female torture
From 1956 to 1993 abortion in Poland was allowed if a woman was experiencing “difficult living conditions”. In fact, for most of the time pregnancy termination was available on request.

In 1993 the law became stricter, removing the “difficult living conditions” as grounds for abortions. So-called “abortion compromise” allowed pregnancy termination in cases of threat to the life or health of the pregnant woman, cases of rape or incest, and cases in which prenatal tests confirmed serious and irreversible damage of the foetus.

In 2016 anti-choice committee “Stop Abortion” submitted to the parliament a draft of a bill tightening abortion law even further, but ultimately, it was rejected. From 2016 to 2018 there were multiple attempts to amend the law.

From now Polish women will be forced to give birth to children even when they have no chance of survival outside the womb. The new law raises the question of the purpose of any prenatal diagnostics.

As in other countries which prohibit abortion, Poland has an “abortion underground”, where illegal abortions take place.

According to the Federation for Women and Family Planning, from 80,000 to 200,000 Polish women decide to terminate their pregnancy every year, while there are around 1000 procedures carried out officially. From now on, this discrepancy is expected to increase even more.

Scottish solidarity protests
In a survey conducted in November 2020, 66 per cent of respondents in Poland supported the women’s right to terminate a pregnancy up to the 12th week and 26 per cent were of the opposite opinion.

Grażyna Rybak is an activist from the Edinburgh Queer Collective, which is responsible for the protests in Edinburgh, including the one outside the parliament building and Polish Consulate.
She said: “The women in Poland were never allowed to be heard. The government is listening to the priests, instead of to the voice of the society”.

RIDICULOUS: Polish women will now be forced to give birth to children even when there is no chance of survival outside the womb. Photo: Craig Maclean

The Edinburgh Queer Collective (EQC) was established in the late summer of 2020. The members of the collective have worked to build international solidarity with Polish LGBT+ people in the Edinburgh community and bodies such as the Scottish Government and Edinburgh Council.

After the disgraceful decision of the government-driven Constitutional Court, the members of the collective took multiple actions to support mass-scale revolutionary protests of Polish women.

Martyna Kampa, another member of EQC said: “As a bisexual person who came from Oświęcim, a town of an infamous Nazi German concentration camp Auschwitz-Brikenau, anti-fascism, social justice and tolerance towards minorities were always part of my identity.”

Martyna left Poland in 2017, mainly for socio-economic reasons, although the homophobia prevailing in the country and the takeover of power by an authoritarian, far-right government had an impact.

She said: “I didn’t think that a few years later I would be watching the news from the country full of police brutality against women. I could not imagine not joining the solidarity protests here, in Scotland.”

But the solidarity movement of Polish expats in Edinburgh started earlier. Monika Oleksiak was among the organisers of the protest in 2016 in Parliament Square.

She said: “There was a few hundreds of people who joined us then, including feminists from Edinburgh University and a group of Irish activists, who at that time shared our struggle to achieve reproductive freedom.”

Now Monika lives in Poland, where she still attends demonstrations. The last one happened in Katowice and was aggressively interrupted by police. She said: “I am frustrated and tired by the situation in this country. I honestly consider moving back to Scotland.”

In 2016 Marta Miedźwiedziew was literally in the process of packing her things and moving to Scotland.

She said: “I felt like there was no point of staying, Poland had been going in a certain direction for years, it felt more and more suffocating, and it hadn’t felt like my home any more.”

As a part of the EQC Marta organises and participates in the protests in Edinburgh. She said: “I am doing it because I think of those who are left in Poland and who try to make a change. Maybe it sounds clichéd but I feel it’s the right thing to do.”

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