“This is a war”: the fight for abortion rights in Poland
On the 22nd October 2020 the Constitutional Court in Poland ruled that abortion due to severe fetal defects was unconstitutional. This was the reason for around 98% of abortions in Poland each year. Once this decision is implemented abortion will be legal in only two circumstances: in cases of rape or incest, or when the pregnancy causes huge risk to the health or life of the mother. Poland is now one of the only countries in the world with such strict abortion laws. Only Only 1,000 abortions legally took place in Poland last year, with a further 180,000 procedures carried out informally or abroad with the help ofAbortion Without Borders.
I was protesting outside the Constitutional Court when the ‘sentence’ was announced. I was among a small group of people, maybe 15, but I was terrified because next to us there was a large crowd of anti-abortion protestors with their banners, rosaries and speeches. Just a few hours later, this small group turned into a mass movement, with crowds of Polish people protesting in the streets against our fundamentalist religious state.
Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice Party, and a Deputy Prime Minister with control of the defence, justice and interior ministries, made a speech to the citizens of Poland. After protestors turned their activism to religious spaces, marking churches with graffiti and entering ceremonies with banners, the backlash from police and fascists was instantaneous. Kaczyński not only condoned this but called out for the need to ‘protect churches as an act of patriotism’ and was outright in stating that religion and buildings are more important than human rights. He said: “this is a war”. The sheer scale of the protests surprised the government and prompted an unproportional deployment of heavily armed riot police and even the territorial army. During the past three weeks the police have acted in a very inconsistent, chaotic and violent way; using pepper spray on the first night of protests in Warsaw, arresting people at the fringes of the marches, and even letting the fascists control our crowd in front of the churches. To add horror to these past events, fascists have been more active on the streets than normal. They are attacking groups going back home from the protests all over Poland, throwing firecrackers into the middle of our crowds and protecting churches, as decreed by Kaczynnski.
The Law and Justice party is taking away our fundamental rights. But it goes further. I wonder to what extent politicians, journalists, all this so-called ‘establishment’, think and behave both within their own interests and the current patriarchal system. They instruct us on how to behave and what slogans we should shout because they feel that our protest undermines their domination. In my thinking about this protest, I do not limit myself to ad hoc political issues but I see a wider social context. So let us remember that Kaczyński was right about one thing: there is a war, but we are fighting for women’s rights, for legal and free abortions for all who need it. We will shout as much as possible that “sex is not a crime, pregnancy is not a punishment, I want an abortion, I will have it”. Because no law can separate us and no law can divide us, we will stand arm in arm always in solidarity.
And this solidarity is wonderfully empowering. It is incredible to see such huge protests that arose in just one day. The All-Polish Women’s Strike led the way on the 22nd October and overnight it spread into a grassroots movement, with different initiatives taking part in decentralised actions all across Poland. We are seeing a beautiful collective resistance on the streets of all different kinds of people and communities On Friday 30th October there were more than 150,000 people protesting on the streets of Warsaw, marking the biggest march since the fall of communism in 1989 in Poland.
I believe in the power of the youth and the power of women. The Constitutional Court, along with far too many politicians, have shown us that freedom of women’s choice is a highly politicised issue. Those in power violate women’s laws, our sense of basic security, and our hopes for living in accordance with our beliefs.
We will not let this be our future, the last generation. I believe that we have started a revolution on the streets these past few weeks and I sincerely hope that it will not be limited to the fight for women’s rights and free abortion. Yes, right now it is a battle that we have to focus on and that we have to win. This would be the first dent in the shield of patriarchy. But it has to spread further to fighting for immigrant and refugee rights, for LGBTQI+ rights, for sex workers’ rights, for workers’ rights, for the rights of people with disabilities, for education, for the end of capitalism and land exploitation, for climate justice. Our future depends on all of this to provide basic security and equality for everyone regardless of skin colour or sexual orientation.
“Revolution cannot be planned, accelerated or triggered. For the revolution is not a movement towards freedom, but a manifestation of this freedom, it is the culmination, not the beginning of the path.” Piotr Laskowski (author of the book Szkice z Dziejów Anarchizmu)
People outside Poland right now may struggle to understand how terrifying the widespread control over women’s bodies is. This is why we shout: my body and my mind are mine and only mine. I decide what to do with it, how to treat it, and how I care for it. Not the Church’s, not politicians’, not my parents’, or partners’. So we shout: “My body, my choice!”