The struggle for reproductive rights in Poland
In October, a court ruling placed an effective ban on all abortions in Poland. In response, the country erupted into spontaneous mass protests, occupations and strikes. The local ICL section IP was in the thick of things.
On October 22 Polish Constitutional Court ruled out that the right to abortion in case of foetal damages is against the Polish Constitution. Since 1993, Polish law on abortion has already been one of the strictest in Europe (if not in the world). The new decision means de facto an abortion ban. It has sparked the outrage of millions of women and men in Poland.
Despite the epidemic-related ban on gatherings larger than 5 people, hundreds of thousands of protesters took the streets all over Poland. It is estimated that people have taken to the streets in over 400 towns and villages all over the country, including small towns, usually associated with predominant conservatism and wide-spread support for the government. There is unprecedented anger at the government, politically-steered Constitutional Court and the Roman Catholic Church (which is an important political player in Poland). Even though, the attack on women’s right to choose is the main focus, there are also other, related issues on the protesters’ agenda: poor state of public health-care system, lack of actual pro-social and family-friendly policies, low salaries and lack of long-term employment contracts which puts majority of society (especially women!) in precarious position, which in turn makes decision to get pregnant, give birth and establish a family problematic.
On Sunday, the 25th of October, the Online Working Conference of, IP (Inicjatywa Pracownicza – Workers’ Initiative Union) recommended the National Committee of our Union to issue a statement of full support for the protests, the access to safe and legal abortions and a call for the general strike on Wednesday the 28th of October. The official statement was issued on Monday, 26th of October. It reads:
Basing on the recommendation of the Working Conference (which took place on 24-25th of October), the National Committee of the IP (Workers’ Initiative Union) has issued a statement on the access to abortion. The document is critical towards the Constitutional Court ruling, which deprives most women of their right to terminate pregnancy and opposes the actions of those in power, who use the law and constitution in order to take our freedoms, our right to self-determine our fate and to act according to one’s conscience.
Access to abortion is, next to social benefits, sexual education, contraception and prenatal testing, one of the fundaments of working women’s reproductive health. This is why we attach equal importance to the struggle for access to abortion as the struggle for higher wages and safety at work.
Our statement consists of two declarations: 1. Mutual help and support in accessing pregnancy termination, 2. Support for the ongoing protests all over Poland.
Regardless of the law in Poland and legality or illegality of abortion, women will continue to terminate pregnancies. When the government deprives us of access to healthcare and imposes new restrictions on fundamental freedoms, we will do whatever possible in order to ensure mutual help and support in accessing abortion.
We assume that the wave of strikes, protests and paralysing entire sections of the economy will put the pressure on those in power and will result in the healthcare policies (including abortion) that we want being shaped. Amid the social-economic crisis caused by the government at the time of pandemic, we will continue to organize and fight.
Solidarity is our weapon! We are going on strike!
[the full version in Polish can be found here: https://ozzip.pl/dokumenty/item/2693-stanowisko-ws-dostepu-do-aborcji]
On Wednesday 28th of October, following the call for General Women’s Strike (supported by some unions including the IP) many people refused to work. Since the Polish legal regulations do not allow strikes other than those related to workplace and employer-workers relations, an “official strike” was not possible, but many workers took days off, donated blood or used the so called “union hours” in order to not show up at work.
The solidarity protests were held in front of the Polish embassies, consulates or ambassadors’ residencies in Ukraine (Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkiv, Mariupol), Germany (Berlin), UK (London, Glasgow), Italy (Rome, Milano), Norway (Oslo), Sweden (Stockholm), the Spanish State (Madrid, Barcelona) and possibly others that we don’t know about.
On 30th of October, along with around 100 000 people, IP members marched on Warsaw. At the same time, the protests continued in other parts of the country. Apart from common pro-choice and anti-governmental slogans, social and class issues were also addressed. In a message encouraging to people to join the protests, IP wrote the following:
We are protesting all kinds of oppression against women, against low wages, hard work conditions, cuts in social benefits, poor healthcare system, lack of public and affordable housing, underfinanced care and education, overload with housework, violations of migrants’ rights and others.
We stand for: access to legal and safe abortion; full salaries for our work, regardless of the location of this work: factory, school, office or home. We demand developing care institutions, public and commonly accessible healthcare; more influence on different aspects of our lives and liberation from the tyranny of serving as a cheap workforce!
A delegation of the IP members from the city of Poznań was stopped by the police on their way to Warsaw. The cars were searched, the content of banners and other materials checked. And the passengers were dragged out of the vehicle, handcuffed and taken to the police station. After 3 hours, they were released without interrogation, charges or even receiving a detention protocol. Finally, all of them managed to join the protests in Warsaw.
The massive protest in Warsaw was also attacked by groups of far-right militia who fired tear gas and threw stones and flares at the protesters. One of the comrades got hurt but did not require hospitalization. Importantly, by the time the police intervened, the attackers were chased away by the crowd. Despite the ban on gatherings, the protests continued after the 30th of October and still continue.
As of mid-November 2020, the protested anti-choice ruling by the constitutional court has not been published in the Journal of Laws (this is where all laws need to be published in order for any ruling or change of law to be binding). Officially, it makes the ruling invalid, but many hospitals and physicians are afraid of conducting even the legal (or legal according to the pre-ruling state of affairs) abortions. The President has suggested some amendments calling for a “compromise”. But the protesters have enough of any compromises regarding their bodies, their right to choose and the right to healthcare.
The struggle will continue and we hope that in the face of the global backlash against women’s reproductive rights led by world reactionary leaders will be internationalized.
Also available in: Español (Spanish)