Hundreds of thousands of women have been protesting in what has become the largest demonstrations seen in Poland since the fall of communism in 1989. Sparked by a decision by the constitutional court to remove one of the last remaining grounds for abortion, it has grown into broader opposition against the government, with supporters using the slogan #ThisIsWar. Why has this decision, and the outrage it has caused, been so significant?
Annabelle Chapman: Poland has some of the strictest restrictions on abortion in Europe where abortion is banned except in exceptional circumstances such as when a woman’s life is in danger, in cases of rape or incest or in cases of severe foetal defects.
This recent ruling by the constitutional court removes the possibility of having an abortion in cases of foetal defects which accounts for almost all of the legal abortions that are performed in Poland every year. This has struck a nerve for a lot of Polish women because it’s a situation every woman could find themselves in.
Kerry Longhurst: These protests, at the heart, are about women’s rights but it’s not just feminists out here protesting. There are mums, dads, brothers, sisters and children from different groups across society.
For many people the protests are a broader opposition to the rights they feel the Polish government has been chipping away at over the last five years due to the ‘Kaczyńskization’ of the government under the influence of Jarosław Kaczyński, currently leader of the ruling Law and Justice Party. The streets are alive and the protests are not going away anytime soon.
This is not the first time the Polish government has attempted to regulate abortion. In 2016, legislation prohibiting abortion altogether was put to parliament, but was met with opposition, as thousands of women went on strike during what was called Black Monday.
With 400,000 people taking to the streets in cities and towns across Poland this year, how has the latest ruling galvanized people that might not have otherwise been expected to protest in the past?
Annabelle Chapman: There’s a sense that this is something new. If you go around different cities and towns, you see the symbol for these protests – a red lightning bolt – posted in the windows of people’s houses, showing solidarity with the demonstrations.
The last time we had similar protests, as you mentioned, was in 2016 when the Polish government attempted to prohibit abortion altogether. This year, the people protesting are still largely young women outraged at the Polish government for attempting to bring in this latest legislation almost through the back door rather than through open democratic debate.
But this ruling has brought together a lot of different people who don’t necessarily share a political platform too. The women leading the protests in Warsaw, for example, want to reverse the decision by the court but I wouldn’t say that’s something that all the protestors are protesting for. Some people believe this is their opportunity to push for a more liberal political agenda which could mean more women’s rights but also, for example, more LGBTQ+ rights too.
Kerry Longhurst: I think the fact that people are out here on the streets demonstrates that, when pushed, people want to stand up for not just their own rights, but those of others too.