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Poland’s fight for abortion rights

By Katy Dollar

Thousands of people have marched in cities across Poland in protests against a near-total ban on abortion. Poland already has some of the strictest abortion laws in the world.

There are fewer than 2,000 legal abortions a year in Poland, and the vast majority take place because of malformed foetuses, which would be illegal following the court ruling such abortions were unconstitutional. The new ruling restricts abortions to circumstances of rape, incest, or if there is a threat to the woman’s life.

Women’s groups estimate that as many as 200,000 procedures are performed illegally or abroad each year.

The demonstrations happened despite a government ban on public gatherings due to Covid-19. Poland’s Roman Catholic episcopate and the governing rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party had been campaigning for further restrictions on reproductive freedoms. The court has been reformed by the PiS government and contains many right-wing judges loyal to the ruling party.

On Friday thousands of young protesters in Warsaw marched to the home of PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński, meeting violence from Poland’s riot police. Elsewhere in Poland protesters gathered in main squares, outside PiS premises, or near churches. Slogans such as “women’s hell” and “unlimited abortions” were daubed on church walls in Warsaw.

On Sunday 25 October protesters interrupted Mass at churches, dropping banners and staging occupations. Poland’s far-right came out to block women from protesting at some churches.

Polish socialist and Momentum NCG member, Ana Oppenheim said, “The protest was called very spontaneously, on Thursday night. When I arrived just after 5pm on Saturday, there was maybe a couple hundred people. By the time it got properly dark around 6.30, there were over a thousand of us.

“The protest was DIY, loud and angry — just like the actions happening across Poland where hundreds of thousands of people in cities and towns are demonstrating, blocking roads and interrupting church services. Pundits like to say the court ruling ‘divided Poland’, but in reality, the opposition to the ruling is overwhelming and crosses political, social, generational and geographic divides.

“I’ve been particularly happy to see the alliances of feminists and trade unionists, from farmers to miners, that are currently emerging — something we haven’t seen a lot of in Poland in recent decades. Knowing that my friends are among those marching and organising back home makes me proud, and I know they’re really happy to see that we’re standing in solidarity with them in the UK, across Europe and beyond”.

We must continue to stand in solidarity against the Polish right’s attacks on reproductive freedoms. It is part of a global attack on abortion rights.

On 22 October the Trump administration signed an international anti-abortion pledge. The “Geneva Consensus Declaration” calls on states to promote “women’s rights and health” — without access to abortion. The “core supporters” of the declaration are Brazil, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia and Uganda, and the 27 other signatories include Belarus, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Sudan, South Sudan, Libya.

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