Poland’s Pro-Choice Protests

‘When the state fails to protect us, I’ll stand by my sister’ – protest placard.

Poland is presently experiencing a persistent series of protests, which the police have used tear-gas against, centred around the country’s abortion law. When back in October, a constitutional court barred abortions of foetuses with congenital defects, tightening Poland’s already stringent law on access to terminations, it resulted in mounting anger among young women and led to many tens of thousands taking to the streets under the umbrella of the Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet (OSK, or All-Polish Women’s Strike) or more simply, ‘Women’s Strike’ movement which has a red lightning bolt as its symbol. Demonstrations of unity and sympathy have spread widely among the Polish diaspora across Europe and in the UK.

Poland’s right-wing Law and Order (PiS) government was pressured into postponing the implementation of the law although some hospitals are already curtailing abortion procedures.

As often is the case, the immediate reason for the demonstrations has spiralled into demands for the government’s resignation. The PiS government has already withdrawn from the Istanbul Convention on violence against women as being ‘of an ideological nature, which we consider harmful.’

LGBT activists have joined the demonstrations, angered by the anti-gay rhetoric of Poland’s president who has tried to declare his country an LGBT-free zone. The campaign movement is now advocating further changes to Poland’s predominantly conservative Catholic culture. Opposition to the church’s influence has seen its services being disrupted. Three Polish women face trial accused of ‘offending religious feelings by insulting an object of religious worship’. They risk up to two years in prison for blasphemy by putting up pictures of the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo. This Guardian report (6 November) tried to capture the sentiments of the Polish protests.

‘I think it is a whole backlash against a patriarchal culture, against the patriarchal state, against the fundamentalist religious state, against the state that treats women really badly’ said Marta Lempart, one of the movement’s prominent activists.

Adam Mrozowicki, a sociologist at the University of Wrocław, describes the Women’s Strike as ‘decentralised, locally based, grassroots…’ and says that the protesters have no clear links to parliamentary politics, and their leaders have said they do not want to become a political movement.

Andrzej Kompa, a historian and university researcher, explained that he was protesting ‘not just against this hell for women, decided by this so-called constitutional court, but against this government, against church involvement in political affairs, for minority rights. Simply for freedom’.

The protesters have now re-named Roman Dmowski Square with new street signs changing it to Women Rights Square as a commemoration of Polish women gaining the right to vote 102 years ago.

Protesters apologised for their regular disruptions, ‘We are sorry for the inconvenience, we have a government to overthrow’. Though as socialists know, overthrowing one capitalist government for a different one, tends to swap one set of problems or issues for another set.


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