‘Women’s Hell’: Clashing Fronts in Poland – Conservative Article
‘Women’s Hell’ – this is the name of the pro-choice movement in Poland and I believe it’s very fitting.
A few months ago, our team at POI covered the intricacies of the Polish election. We’ve all agreed that Andrzej Duda, a right-wing candidate, will be detrimental to Poland’s human rights record.
Unsurprisingly, we’ve seen this come to fruition with the Law and Justice Party introducing a bill that restricts abortion in cases of disability. This means that Poland has the strictest abortion laws in Europe, matching those of Vatican and Malta. The thing is, up to 98% of pregnancies terminated in Poland happen because of the foetal defects.
This inevitably prompted widespread protests, garnering international attention and thousands of protestors. Since the beginning of the protests, there has been some progress. On 30 October, Poland’s President, Andrzej Duda, announced that he’s going to introduce a more humane law that safeguards children with Down Syndrome, but allows terminating pregnancies where the child would have died anyway. It’s a minuscule step forward, but it is a step forward, nonetheless.
I fully support the peaceful protests (there were a few instances where the protestors smeared paint all over Ronald Reagan’s statue and they interrupted Catholic Mass, which was unreasonable and I fear it may turn the government against the cause), however, I don’t think that Poland is ready for the change yet. There are a few distinct reasons for this.
First of all, Poland has a written constitution. A lot of legislations are in line with the Catholic Church’s teachings. Considering that 87% of the Polish population identifies as Catholic, it’s hard to find a middle ground. The constitution has already been a problem regarding same-sex marriages, now it also poses a challenge to the pro-choice folk. In order to challenge these legislations, the constitution would have to be altered. But the government is not willing to do so.
Nevertheless, society is slowly shifting to be more accepting of abortion. Based on the 2019 poll, 58% of the Polish population supports abortion on request up till 12 weeks. When compared to 27% support in 2014, a gradual difference is evident. This is significant, especially in the relation to the recent elections. Andrzej Duda beat his rival, Rafal Trzaskowski only by a marginal amount. For the change to be achievable, the Polish public needs to vote the current party out of the government.
The problem is these issues cannot be solved simply by protesting. It will send a message to the government, which is certainly desirable, but it also requires a balanced conversation. Interestingly enough, even Duda’s wife and daughter spoke against the recent abortion ban which could explain his recent change of heart.
Regardless, abortion is only legal in cases of endangerment of the mother’s life, rape, or incest, and (up until now) a deformed or a mentally disabled child. Women who are forced into having a child they don’t want are more likely to abandon their family later in life, be resentful, and fail to cater to their child needs. Even though Poland’s government offers financial incentives to people who choose to have children, many of them don’t want to go down that path.
Considering that no contraception ever works 100%, such problems can arise. These laws will not lead to fewer abortions; over 10,000 Polish women already go abroad to get an abortion every year, as confirmed by the Polish rights groups. What about those who can’t afford it? They will take matters in their own hands which could end tragically.
What can Poland do to achieve this social change? I’m afraid that the only option right now is to wait. I believe that by the time the next election comes, a more reasonable government will get a chance to come into power. Campaigning, raising awareness, and lobbying the government should all contribute to a positive change.
One thing that will not help is following in the steps of the BLM movement. Direct action, rioting, and burning down buildings will be detrimental to the cause and it will lessen people’s willingness to feel sympathetic to the movement. But I also believe that Polish folk are smarter than that.
Hopefully, the change will come sooner than later. However, it will not happen with the current government.
Written by Junior Conservative Writer, Dinah Kolka
Point of Information
Waiting is not enough – A Liberal Response
I wholeheartedly agree with Dinah’s sentiments of equating abortion rights as a human right. For women to be equal, they need complete autonomy over their own bodies in the same way men have. That includes deciding when it is used by another person; for example, in the case of a pregnancy.
However, an aspect that I disagree with is the idea that all there is to do is wait. The next election is in 2025, only then will the Polish be able to decide whether or not vote the current administration out of power.
How long do Polish women and girls have to wait? How many women will die or mutilate themselves taking matters into their own hands? How many will be unable to afford to cross borders, and will give birth to babies who will either die due to fatal foetal abnormalities or grow up unwanted and in difficult circumstances?
I am not suggesting rioting and burning down buildings, but sometimes protests can become louder without becoming violent. Campaigning, raising awareness and lobbying are all useful methods, but protesting and keeping the anger are also important ways of instigating this change.
In 2016, the Polish government attempted to pass a ban on all abortion. Tens of thousands of women went on strike and 30,000 marched in Warsaw against this ban. The government was forced into a U-turn and the legislation was dropped. What is to stop the Polish population from repeating actions like this and trying to produce the same result?
Furthermore, by waiting five years, you allow the issue to slide down the agenda so that by the time of the next election, you risk people not considering abortion rights as a priority. And while Andrzej Duda cannot be elected for a third term, what is preventing someone of his calibre replacing him? That person could toughen abortion laws further.
Just waiting to vote again is not enough. The voices of dissent need to shout louder.
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Emma Hall
Poland shows the danger of weaponising of faith and political courts; an increasing and worrying trend – A Labour Response
I have to agree with Emma here. In the years until the next election, countless women will suffer because of these new restrictions. Waiting is simply not good enough. Bodily autonomy is a basic right and it is disturbing that this backwards step has occurred.
The strength of the Catholic Church and the socially conservative values it espouses are clearly the issue. A brief history lesson shows us that after the fall of communism, Poland became relatively liberal regarding abortion. However, due to pressure from the Catholic Church, these rights were rescinded. The Catholic faith of many Polish people is now being weaponised by the deputy Prime Minister, Jarosław Kaczyński:
By binding the Church and Polish-ness so tightly together, Kaczyński is attempting to quash protests about basic rights through fear-mongering and calling into question the cultural identity of the individuals who demand these rights. Additionally, he is also adding fuel to the fire of Poland’s right-wing, which as we have seen in other countries this year (the US), can lead to deadly clashes between protesters.
The group leading the protests are Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet (OKS) and to be honest, I had never heard of them. After some research, it is clear they are a powerful force for good in Poland. The OKS calls for a serious rethinking of Polish law; further basic rights for women and the LGBTQ community; the clear separation of Church and State; and notably full judicial independence.
This is vital as the abortion ban in question was not introduced through Parliament as it was in 2016. Instead, it came through a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal. The major issue is this court has been packed full of outwardly conservative and PiS (the ruling party) allies. The political use of the court and religion to curtail women’s rights sounds oddly reminiscent of the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett by Donald Trump. It is once again crystal clear that a politically influenced judiciary is a terrible and dangerous idea.
The protests are vital to show the government that this is wrong and unpopular. Keeping that pressure up will hopefully yield results. Dinah is also right when she says the next election is where all this anti-government sentiment needs to be realised in votes. Constitutional reform will only come through the changing of power via election.
It may be a long five years for women in Poland. But by not backing down they will, I hope, prevail.
Written by Senior Labour Writer, Henry McKeever
My name is Dinah Kolka and I am going into the first year of Journalism at Napier University in Edinburgh. Recently, I graduated from Edinburgh College with an HNC in Media and Communications. This ignited my interest in politics and journalism.
I am entering the third year of a BA in History and Ancient History at the University of Exeter. I have a fascination with the past otherwise and you would hope so, otherwise I may have chosen the wrong degree. But, writing for POI gives me the opportunity to talk politics which is something I simply can’t avoid.