It’s been two weeks since the Polish Constitutional Court announced that almost all types of abortion are illegal in this country. The decision sparked massive strikes and anger, while the protests did not stop even after the government decided to postpone the implementation of the decision.
Contrary to what many say, the controversial decision didn’t technically forbid abortion totally, but it says that terminations will be available only in cases of rape, incest or threat to women’s life.
At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic is taking its toll with more than 6000 dead and 19,364 infected as of November 3, which puts Poland in the top 5 of countries most affected in Europe.
As the outrage continued, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called for calm and to focus on fighting the pandemic. He also showed a readiness for dialogue with the protesters, who in the meantime gave the government an ultimatum to resign by the end of the year.
Poland seems to be in trouble, indeed.
Who stole the moon in Poland?
“The cat can stay,” “Get the fuck out,” “In 1962 you stole the moon, you have the place to get the fuck out (to)” are some of the slogans protestors directed at Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of the ruling Law and Justice party. A populist, right wing party.
Kaczynski in 2015 — who had no official government function — became the number one person in the country. Five years on and it seems that for Kaczynski things might have gone too far — the thin red line has been crossed. Poles don’t want the aging, single, political strategist, who shares his Warsaw house with a cat.
The slogans dedicated to him at the protests are full of sarcasm. The crowd demands Kaczynski disappear, and they refer to his personal life — the beloved cat that “can stay,” and the movie “The Two Who Stole the Moon” starring Jaroslaw and his twin brother Lech back in 1962. The movie was based on a popular novel by Kornel Makuszynski with the same title, and it featured the adventures of the two rascals, twin brothers, who stole the Moon and found themselves in trouble because of it.
Back in October, immediately after the Court’s decision, the entire country went up in flames. Hundreds of thousands of people have been taking to the streets in more than 100 cities across Poland. The All-Poland Women’s Strike movement (Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet), born in 2016 as reaction to a controversial government decision restricting women’s rights, announced that more strikes are yet to come.
On November 1, the Movement created the Consultative Council, with the aim to develop strategies to implement the aims of the protests. First, they called for the resignation of the government. At the same time, a list of demands is being prepared and all citizens are invited to participate in the process.
Meanwhile, the protests continue.
For decades, since the fall of communism in Poland in 1989, abortion in this country has been a highly political matter. In public discussions, women have been rarely allowed to speak for themselves. Even today, in the third decade of the 21st century, it is hard to find a debate on TV in Poland where women are included.
In most cases the visibility is given to male politicians and Catholic Church officials.
At the same time, statistics show worrying data. In 2019, for instance, 1,110 legal abortions have been performed in Poland, and according to the experts many more are performed illegally in the underground, or outside the country.
The first time that triggered outrage was in 1993, when a law on Family Planning was adopted allowing abortion only in three cases: Incest, rape, or when prenatal tests or other medical indications showed a high probability of a severe and irreversible impairment of the fetus or an incurable life-threatening disease. Yet, a few years later, in 1997, the Constititional Court ruled that abortion on social grounds — like poverty— was unconsitutional.
The new decision by the Constitutional Court issued this year on October 22, forbids even these options provided by the decision from the end of the 90s. This automatically makes abortion impossible.
As expected, this decision triggered rage. Even the new decision from Andrzej Duda, the Polish President, that his team will prepare an additional law that will define precisely in what cases abortion is against Polish Constitution, did not stop it. According to unconfirmed information, Duda wants to ban abortion except in cases where there is a high possibility of the Down syndrome gene.
Too little, too late
After one week of protests, the government made a decision to delay implementation of the new legal provision. But, it did not stop the revolt. This tiny step to a compromise seems not to be enough.
The main coordinator of strikes, Marta Lempart, told the media that her organization is planning to continue the protests. At stake is not only abortion, they also want to take down the Law and Justice party led government.
According to her, what is happening currently in Poland is a decades long war in which women’s rights have been oppressed.
Lempart’s comment came out after the General Prosecutor of Poland sent a letter to the regional prosecutors saying that taking part in protests and providing support and endorsement is considered a crime.
On October 27, Kaczynski, the leader of the Law and Justice party, called for a war against activists, calling conservative groups to protect churches that, according to him, have been under attack. And indeed, some incidents of entering churches during a mass have been recorded, as well as protests in front of them. In response, members of nationalistic, right-wing organizations like Independent March Association, or Falanga and others, showed up.
On October 30, two female journalists were beaten up by hooligans, activists report that the police have been committing illegal ambushes, however the exact numbers remain unknown.
Despite that, Marta Lempart, told the media that she is not planning to give up, and that Poland — sooner or later — will become a new country.
Much needed changes
Currently the activists are collecting ideas on social media about what should change in the country. Every citizen is eligible to speak up.
They also created a Consultative Council that will be similar to a body created in Belarus by the opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. The Council consists of 20 people, the majority with previous activism experience. However, the list of candidates isn’t final, and Women Strike activists called for more experts and activists to join them.
On Saturday, October 31 the council met for the first time. The members proposed 13 crucial areas that have to change in Poland, like education, the rule of law, women’s and LGBTIQ+ rights, and so on. The Council created working groups dedicated to each topic and the activists are collecting ideas from citizens via dedicated email addresses.
The Council, as the members explained to the public, will work on a new path forward for Poland. That new path does not include the Law and Justice party.
Feature Illustration: Courtesy of Justyna Kisielewicz