November 6, 2020
Living in Switzerland, where abortion is completely legal during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, the right to abortion might appear as an indivisible human and women’s right; a decision that everyone can make on their own and that isn’t dictated from the top down, by the government. Nevertheless, in Poland, a country with a strong Catholic presence, where the church unfortunately remains continuously engaged in politics – it is a topic of great controversy. The Law and Justice (PiS) party, currently in power, is known for their conservative beliefs and has shown a hostile approach towards ideas such as the LGBTQ+ rights, sexual education in schools, and now – women’s rights.
Recently, on the 22 of October the Polish Constitution Tribunal ruled for abortion to be illegal when the fetus has irreversible birth defects. In practice, this recent decision of the court almost completely bans abortion in Poland as the majority of legal abortions, 97.6% in 2019, take place precisely because of severe fetal defects. The reasoning behind such a ruling is that terminating pregnancy because a child will be born disabled or with a lethal defect is a eugenic practice, a form of discrimination, and “human life” needs to be protected no matter the physical disabilities of the child. Nevertheless, considering that Poland is a country which provides a poor psychological and financial support system for people with disabilities viewing abortion in the circumstance of fetal defects a a eugenic practice is shortsighted. As an example, a monthly financial allowance that is supposed to cover the cost of the equipment and help that a disabled person needs is equal to 215.84 zloty (approximately 50 chf). With such very limited support from the government not everyone has the means to raise, and guarantee a decent standard of living to a child with disabilities. Bluntly speaking, at the end it’s the women (and her partner) who are going to be responsible for their child and not the government. Thus the family should have an option to decide whether they are willing and financially ready to have a disabled child. Secondly, the Tribunal Courts decision turns a blind eye to the fact that giving birth to a child with a lethal defect is unconscionable for both the child and the mother as it brings physical and psychological pain. Forcing a woman to keep a baby that is bound to die after being born is just inhumane.
The tribunal court’s decision evoked a wave of protests all over Poland and around the world. The majority of protests in Poland are led by Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet (All-Poland Women’s Strike), an organization which engaged in negotiation with the government aiming to inter alia legalise abortion in all circumstances, fight for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, and make Poland a secular country. The protests taking place right now in Poland have been the greatest since the fall of communism in 1989. Last Friday, on the 30th of October 100,000 people went to the streets in Warsaw alone.
As a result of the protests and an increase in Covid-19 cases, the Polish president Andrzej Duda proposed a project regarding the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling in which he specified that abortion would still be legal if the fetus has lethal defects, however, wouldn’t be possible in cases of other defects, as an example if the child were to be born with Down syndrome. The government is clearly trying to compromise with the protestors, however, their unwillingness to listen to the true demands of the activists demonstrates that they prioritise bringing an end to the public unrest rather than truthfully protecting women’s rights. The events of this October were a very low blow on ensuring gender equality in Poland and demonstrate the traditional and conservative mindset that dominates in the country. Preventing women from having access to abortion depicts pregnancy as a form of punishment and puts it above women rights. Everyone should ask themselves if they view such an approach as just.
Truthfully, the topic of abortion is a controversial one. For many the dilemma stems from where “human life” begins. Nevertheless, no matter personal opinions on this issue it is important to realize that you don’t have to agree with having an abortion in order to support the idea of abortion being legal and accessible. In reality making abortion illegal does not stop them from taking place but only makes them less safe! Therefore, legalizing abortion is about giving women a choice, giving them the right to in safety, decide over their own bodies. Such decisions should be only made by us – women – and should not be dictated by the government that stays hostage to the church and the idea of morality conveyed in Christian and conservative values.
The government already has a hostile approach towards women’s rights and who knows if they will refrain from further challenging them. Therefore no matter your gender, age, or nationality please read, donate, and speak up about what is going on in Poland. It is not only Polish women’s rights we are fighting for, but a national voice for women to thrive from.