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Poland’s Massive Pro-Choice Protests Can Change the Whole Political Agenda

Tuesday 10 November 2020, by siawi3


Poland’s Massive Pro-Choice Protests Can Change the Whole Political Agenda

Tuesday 3 November 2020,


interviewed by David BRODER

In recent days, Poland has seen its biggest protests in decades, with strikes and demonstrations against the harshened abortion ban. As MP Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-B?k tells Jacobin, the movement is a lightning rod for frustrations at the country’s hard-right government — and can finally put women’s hardships at the center of the political agenda.

Recent days have seen Poland’s biggest social movement in decades, as hundreds of thousands protest a court ruling that imposes a near-total ban on abortion. Since the 1990s, Poland has been one of the European countries with the strictest anti-abortion measures; on October 22, the Constitutional Court tightened this regime yet further, as it ruled that severe fetal abnormalities were no longer grounds for seeking a termination.

Reproductive rights have been a key political battleground in Poland in recent years. Already back in 2016, the hard-right Law and Justice (PiS) government tried to pass a bill further restricting abortion, only to retreat in the face of the so-called “Black Protests.” The days following this latest ruling have seen an even more powerful wave of demonstrations, including strikes at workplaces up and down the country.

Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-B?k is a feminist activist prominent in 2016’s “Black Protests” as well as the current movement. Since the October 2019 election, she has also been a member of the Sejm (parliament) as part of the left-wing coalition Lewica. She spoke to Jacobin’s David Broder about the offensive against reproductive rights, Poles’ frustrations with the PiS government, and what the protest movement has already achieved.

DB | Over the last week or so, there has been a massive response to the Constitutional Court ruling. But also remarkable is that it has mobilized such a great variety of groups, including protests even by farmers and taxi drivers. What explains the strength of this movement?

ADB | The ruling itself was about reproductive rights. Poland’s anti-abortion laws had already been restrictive, but the ruling by the Constitutional Court amounts to a total ban. This caused mass protests, at first by women. But then other groups — workers, trade unionists, farmers, entrepreneurs — quickly joined in.

This is a mass protest of Polish society — still centered on a feminist agenda, but which is not only about that. It also expresses popular frustration at the government’s failure to take responsibility faced with the pandemic, and with the rising numbers of deaths in Poland.

So, the court’s ruling was the trigger that prompted the expression of this mass frustration. As compared to the Black Protests in 2016, this time the signs and slogans are more radical, even vulgar — the main slogan is “Get the Fuck Out!” This, too, shows that the protests aren’t just for something, but mainly about the current political situation.

This is both a good and a bad thing. The bad side is the ongoing risk is that the central, women’s agenda will be absorbed into the liberal center and its generic opposition to the ruling PiS. But what we also see is a solidarity between different groups in Polish society, trade unionists and so on, and feminists. This may be normal in Western countries, but not so in Poland, where after thirty years of “shock doctrine” neoliberalism, there is a pervasive individualism.

DB | Earlier this week, you made a speech in parliament while holding up a clothes hanger — symbolizing the reality that, even before this current ruling, many Polish women had to pay for clandestine abortions. If it is often said in Anglophone media that PiS is a “socially conservative” party that also stands up for welfare, this shows how its policies also impose massive financial costs on women who need a termination.

ADB | Yes, the idea that PiS stands for welfare is good PR for that party. But while it is, indeed, not a liberal party, it is neoliberal in economic terms.

And a total ban on abortion has very grave economic consequences. Each year, 120,000 women in Poland have an abortion. Mainly, they are either illegally conducted in Poland, or else you can travel abroad for one, depending on how able you are to afford it.

The clothes hanger is a symbol — of course, even illegal abortion isn’t done with these tools anymore. But we really are afraid that this ban will cause both further economic exclusion and health risks for those who can’t go abroad.

There is also frustration that this total ban was imposed not by parliament but by a court ruling. PiS has a majority in parliament and could easily have passed a bill to this effect — but that would mean having to make the decision openly, in front of all society.

They are too cowardly to do so, also because polls show that society doesn’t support their position. A full 80 percent of people are against the ruling, and 60 percent are in favor of liberalizing abortion law. Given such large majorities, even a part of PiS’s own electorate must be against it, even though, of course, people who vote for that party are generally more conservative.

DB | There has been some suggestion that president Andrzej Duda — reelected in July as a PiS-backed independent — may seek to push back against the ruling slightly with what is said to be a “compromise” solution — allowing abortion in some very limited circumstances. How do you think protestors will see this?

ADB | The majority of the protesters don’t just want things to stay as they have been for the last thirty years — most favor liberalization, even if some part of the movement does want the status quo.

I don’t think that people would be satisfied with this plan — indeed, it is not even a “compromise” so much as a way of making the ruling sound softer. What Andrzej Duda proposes is based on imprecise terms, open to wide interpretation but that cannot be defined medically. If abortion is allowed only if the fetus is severely damaged and would “without doubt” die immediately after the birth, then does it mean it is not allowed if the fetus would survive for a couple of days?

DB | The PiS leader Jaros?aw Kaczy?ski has taken a hard line, including through a televised address, against the backdrop of several Polish flags, condemning the protests as an attack on Catholic national values. We have also seen a far-right group calling itself the “national guard,” claiming to defend church buildings from attack. Is Kaczy?ski encouraging them, and how do they relate to the actual police?

ADB | At first, the police’s reaction to the demonstrations showed the same brutality and excessive force we had seen them use against the LGBT protests this summer. But tellingly, one week later — after Kaczy?ski’s address — their role shifted, as they began having to defend protestors against far-right vigilantes.

Kaczy?ski is also the minister responsible for internal security. So, now we see an absurd situation where the leading figure in the government appeals for militias and far-right fighters to take to the streets, and these groups respond to his call, fighting with the police as well as with protestors.

A lot of commentators say he is mad and has lost control of the situation. I don’t really agree: he wants this chaos and the escalation of conflict, which is functional to both the government and Kaczy?ski personally. He has had internal problems with his smaller government partners and justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro. But he is using this situation, irresponsibly, to divert attention from the pandemic and the growing numbers of the infected, and toward a story of escalating social conflict.

As for the guards outside churches, it is not true that the churches are under attack. Last Sunday, on one day alone, there were some demonstrations with banners inside churches, but that was it. They did not “attack” the churches, and no one today addresses the churches at all. But now we have these funny pictures of soldiers, police, and far-right groups all “guarding” churches no one else is even paying attention to.

DB | The 2016 protests in Poland, which thwarted a previous bid to further restrict abortion, had some resonance also in Ireland, whose Repeal the 8th movement forced the successful 2018 referendum to overturn the constitutional ban on abortion. There, the reproductive rights movement scored a great victory, even faced with the weakness of the parliamentary left and the narrow range of mainstream political choice. In Poland’s presidential election twelve months ago, we saw a binary contest between PiS and the more centrist opposition, which isn’t all that “liberal” itself. Can the current protests help break open Polish politics?

ADB | I think we are at the point that things can go either way. From the beginning of the protests, it has been clear that, even as compared to 2016, this is much more leftist and radical and defined by progressive politics.

Right now, we face the danger that the movement will be absorbed by Civic Platform, which, as you say, is barely even a liberal party, but it’s still the biggest opposition in parliament. The effect may be just to strengthen the polarization between PiS and anti-PiS parts of society. But our hope is that it will change the political scenery, by turning the debate in a more progressive direction and pushing forth the younger generations and their demands.

The vast majority of the protesters are there in a spontaneous and not organized way. But the central organizing group is the All-Poland Women’s Strike (OSK), which emerged during 2016. Their work is about organizing activists and the protests more than political leadership as such — and politically, it is diverse, with many different figures, some closer to Civic Platform and others closer to the Left.

DB | And what hope is there of forcing a defeat on the government? Do we see similar signs to those in 2016?

ADB | The situation is complicated by the fact that in 2016, when faced with protests, the government just had to withdraw its bill, while now, by using the Constitutional Court to make the decision, they closed that door. So, the government’s options are more limited, and it’s hard to bet on it collapsing.

What the government could do is pass the bill the Left presented — an emergency text for decriminalization. It’s not the pregnant women who face criminal charges for abortion, but those who provide them one, like doctors. So, such a bill could help the women already in the hospital waiting for a procedure to have one; it would be a very simple step, without even broadly changing the current law, showing a will for dialogue, and putting the debate about reproductive rights back before parliament.

If I were pessimistic, I’d think they’d try and do Duda’s “presidential compromise” and then use the public broadcaster and propaganda machinery to paint the protestors as protesting pointlessly and unwilling to help fight against the pandemic.

So, a lot will also depend on how strongly the protests can be politicized and brought into the institutions and the debate in parliament. But the movement in recent years has had what I — as a feminist and a politician — already see as a positive effect. For now, women are becoming seen in the public space, and more movement journalists are being invited onto debates. Now, there is a feminist presence in Polish politics — and that is something that’ll stay with us.

David Broder is Jacobin’s Europe editor and a historian of French and Italian communism.

Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-B?k is a Polish feminist activist and member of parliament for Lewica (the Left).



Pro-choice supporters hold biggest-ever protest against Polish government

Friday 30 October 2020,

by Christian DAVIES

About 100,000 people take to the streets of Warsaw to oppose tightened abortion law

About one hundred thousand protesters took to the streets of the Polish capital, Warsaw, on Friday, in the largest demonstration of popular anger directed against Poland’s ruling rightwing Law and Justice party (PiS) since it assumed office in 2015.

Protests have been held across the country since Poland’s constitutional tribunal declared earlier this month that abortions in instances where a foetus is diagnosed with a serious and irreversible birth defect were unconstitutional. Such procedures constitute about 96% of legal abortions in Poland, which already has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.

On Wednesday, pro-choice activists called a “women’s strike” that attracted over 400,000 people to protests in over 400 towns and cities across the central European nation.

Just hours before Friday’s protest, Andrzej Duda, Poland’s right-wing president, announced what he described as a “legislative solution” to the political crisis, proposing that terminations in instances where birth defects are terminal would be allowed. Terminations of foetuses with conditions such as Down’s syndrome would be banned, however.

Strongly criticised by Poland’s medical and legal establishments, Duda’s intervention did little to quell the anger that has left the government and its de facto leader, PiS founder Jaros?aw Kaczy?ski, reeling.

On Friday, tens of thousands of protesters gathered at points across the city, chanting “I think, I feel, I decide” and anti-PiS slogans.

The protests, held as the government introduces ever-stricter restrictions in response to a sharp rise in coronavirus infections and fatalities in recent weeks, have been characterised by humorous slogans and placards and the engagement of Poles in their teens and early 20s.

But there were also violent incidents, as bands of nationalists dressed in black attacked protesters on the streets of central Warsaw. According to the Polish police, several of those arrested were carrying knives and batons.

Earlier this week, Kaczy?ski made an address to the nation calling on his supporters to defend churches from the protests, after services were disrupted and in some instances churches defaced during protests last weekend. Some have blamed the PiS leader for implicitly encouraging far-right groups to attack protesters.

On Friday night, having gathered in the centre of Warsaw, tens of thousands of protesters marched north to the leafy suburb where Kaczy?ski lives, only to be blocked off by hundreds of riot police.

“I just spoke to a young woman who told me that she is 24, and that she has done nothing for the last six days except protest,” Maja Wojcikowska, one of the protest’s organisers, told broadcaster TVN. “There is an incredible energy, we are not going to waste it.”



Tribunal constitutionnel – En Pologne, la droite au pouvoir fait disparaître l’accès à l’avortement légal

vendredi 23 octobre 2020,

par Hélène Bienvenu

Le tribunal constitutionnel polonais a rendu son verdict ce jeudi 22 octobre : l’avortement en cas de malformation grave du fœtus ou de maladie menaçant sa vie est jugé non constitutionnel.

Varsovie (Pologne).– Devant le tribunal constitutionnel, c’est l’euphorie du côté des défenseurs du « droit à la vie », à l’annonce du verdict de Julia Przylebska, à la tête de l’institution varsovienne. La juge en chef, nommée par le parti au pouvoir en 2016, vient de déclarer que l’avortement en cas de malformation grave du fœtus ou de maladie incurable est inconstitutionnel.

Kaja Godek, égérie du mouvement anti-avortement en Pologne jubile derrière un ruban de policiers et de bannières figurant des embryons sanguinolents « jetés à la poubelle », précise un haut-parleur. « C’est un grand jour pour la Pologne et pour l’Europe. Cette loi discriminatoire signifiait le meurtre d’êtres vivants innocents. » Celle qui était à l’origine d’une initiative citoyenne portée devant les parlementaires cet hiver pour interdire l’avortement « eugénique » peut se réjouir d’un jugement qu’elle a en grande partie provoqué, porté au tribunal par des députés du PiS, de Kukiz-PSL, rejoints par l’extrême droite de Korwin-Mikke.

Le jugement entrera en vigueur dans quelques jours rendant l’avortement légal seulement en cas de danger pour la mère, de viol ou d’inceste, soit à peine 2 % des 1 100 IVG légalement pratiquées jusque-là dans le pays.

Photo: Une manifestante pro-avortement devant le tribunal constitutionnel à Varsovie. Sur la pancarte : « Avortement. droit de l’homme » © HB

« Cela revient à dire qu’en pratique, l’accès à l’avortement légal disparaît en Pologne. Bien sûr, les plus aisées pourront toujours se rendre à l’étranger… Mais cette décision va avoir des répercussions dramatiques pour les femmes plus démunies ou celles qui sont abandonnées par leur partenaire », se lamente Urszula Lobodzinska, 28 ans.

Elle arpente la rue, bannière affichant « On ne cède pas nos droits » sous le bras, jusqu’à se rendre devant une tente d’activistes « anti-choix », très mobilisés, mais trop absorbés par la récitation du chapelet pour répondre aux entrevues. « Je ne veux pas être forcée à faire naître des enfants sans poumon ou sans tête… et à les voir mourir. C’est ma décision. Ce sont des fondamentalistes qui veulent nous voler nos droits. Honnêtement, je suis terrorisée », confie Urszula Lobodzinska qui soupçonne l’Église catholique d’avoir manœuvré en coulisse et le gouvernement de vouloir faire diversion en pleine deuxième vague de Covid-19.

« Cela fait des années que l’Église milite pour une restriction de l’avortement en Pologne. Et maintenant que le tribunal constitutionnel est entre les mains du pouvoir, il n’est même plus nécessaire de repasser par le Parlement », note la jeune femme âgée d’une vingtaine d’années qui pointe du doigt les remaniements autour dudit tribunal, au centre des réformes de la justice du PiS, le parti majoritaire au pouvoir.

Selon la Fédération pour la cause des femmes et le planning familial jusqu’à 200 000 IVG ont lieu illégalement en Pologne chaque année. « Nous allons continuer à procéder à la clandestinité, nous savons parfaitement comment y procéder », confirme Iwona Wyszogrodzka, qui fait partie de la « Grève des femmes dans tout le pays », un mouvement citoyen qui a émergé en 2016 alors que le PiS, fraîchement de retour au pouvoir, visait déjà à restreindre le droit à l’avortement.

Il avait finalement dû rétrocéder face à la pression de la rue et fera de même deux ans plus tard. « J’essaie de croire que rien ne va changer, mais c’est un jour de deuil », déclare Natalia Broniarczyk, qui exhibe fièrement un sweat-shirt « pro-abo » et travaille pour « Avortement sans frontières », la section polonaise d’une fédération informelle aidant les Polonaises à avorter à l’étranger.

« C’était déjà très compliqué avec les docteurs, mais là, ça va être impossible. Et on va avoir deux fois plus de travail », prévoit celle qui, il y a sept ans, a dû avoir recours à une IVG médicamenteuse chez elle. « Je pensais tout savoir sur l’avortement et puis je suis tombée enceinte, et j’étais en détresse. Les pilules abortives étaient à l’époque arrêtées par poste donc je suis passée par une association », témoigne cette ancienne éducatrice sexuelle.

Depuis sa création en décembre 2019, l’initiative Avortement sans frontières a déjà assisté 3 000 femmes à avorter à domicile par le biais de pilules ou à se rendre à l’étranger au-delà de douze semaines de grossesse. Le séjour est entièrement pris en charge en cas de besoin grâce aux fonds de Abortion Support Network. Pour autant, l’activiste se réjouit de voir que l’avortement est de moins en moins tabou en Pologne, notamment depuis les manifestations de 2016 : « De plus en plus d’hommes aussi nous sollicitent pour leur partenaire et ça, c’est positif », affirme-t-elle. En décembre 2019, un sondage révélait qu’à peine 15 % des Polonais souhaitaient un durcissement des mesures sur l’avortement.