Everything you need to know about the abortion ban in Poland and how to help.

By now, you should have heard of the recent backstep in Poland. With new laws meaning abortion is now illegal for the majority of women.

November’s finale concluded with Poland being in the centre of a controversy regarding their infamous new abortion law. The ruling now states women would only be granted an abortion in cases involving rape, incest or any risk to the health and life of the woman. Any other explanations including foetal defects or an accidental pregnancy would be held unconstitutional, a verdict, which has ignited countless protests across Poland.

Poland’s History on Abortion
To truly understand the decisions behind the initial behaviour towards abortion, we have to take a step back to 1932 where Poland banned abortions entirely. The only exception during this period as if there was a medical concern or criminal interference. This law was maintained for 24 years until the Sejm of the Republic of Poland (lower house of the parliament) legalised abortions for women living in dire conditions and who were unable to look after themselves as well as a new-born.

Interpretations of the law were manipulated from the mid-50s to the 70s and due to this, Poland unintentionally became a travel destination where women from various parts of the world would arrive to obtain an affordable abortion since it was illegal in the place they originated from. The communist regime was defeated by the 90s, but the decade developed an abhorrent ruling on the matter which made abortion yet again inapplicable. By 1992, abortion on the grounds of ‘difficult living conditions’ was eradicated, and the voices of physicians and prosecutors became significant contributors determining if a woman’s condition was adequate for an abortion.

The 21s​t​ Century was a liberating return of body freedom and choice, as proven in 2011 where a draft bill on the ​‘Protection of Human Life from the Moment of Conception​’, was instantly rejected by the Polish parliament, which if passed would have enforced an outright ban on all abortions in Poland. Women’s rights advocate, Gauri Van Gulik described the imposition from the inducers of the bill as an “irresponsible move” that would have forced women who require admittance to an abortion, a considerable hazard to their life.

Moving ahead to 2016, Bishop and Catholic groups in Poland began to pressure the Law and Justice party in Poland to enact a sterner law on the access to abortion with penalties to the providers of abortion which entailed an imprisonment time of 5 years. On 22 September, the day in which the bill was being contested in Sejm, an estimated 100,000 people in Poland joined a demonstration called the ‘Czarny Protest’ (‘Black Protest’) to prevent the attempt from being successful. Social media empowered the campaign wherein which people uploaded selfies in black clothing alongside ‘#czarnyprotest’. This stimulated protests in various cities around Poland but also internationally including obtaining countless backing from celebrities, influencers, and MPs.

What’s happening now?
The protests and the empathetic media attention deterred the government from making the proposed law a reality and in its place brought crucial national attention to women’s reproductive rights. The success was invigorating for women all over the world, but four years later, on the 22​ ​October 2020 the country faced a tragic and vast leap backwards when the Polish Constitutional Tribunal declared a ban on a number of abortions that were originally given permission to proceed in the nature of the fetus experiencing a malformation at birth. The decision faced major backlash influencing protests featuring sit-ins at Catholic churches and inevitably disrupting Sunday Mass in several cities.

On the next day, prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki issued the Military Gendarmerie to aid the police in the “protection of safety and public order” during the Covid-19 pandemic in Poland but was “coincidentally” scheduled for the following week where a nationwide women’s strike was planned to be in action. On the day before Halloween, 100,000 people consumed the streets of Warsaw to protest against the Polish authorities over their ruling and handling of the abortion rights law.

Protests and Backlash
As of 27​ ​November 2020, Poland’s solidification on the legality of abortion on restricted circumstances has provoked feminists to embark on a tangent of their own regarding the rights of the female body. Emerging from within the powerful protests, a formidable new emblem of a blood-red lightning bolt. The symbol has been painted across social media, on the faces of supporters and even proudly on the outside of countless homes, a modern illustration of the pro-choice movement in its monumental resurgence to date.

The bold-faced design has since been adopted by numerous women in several countries all with a focus of instigating conversation on their prejudicial encounters and disputes in society. The founder and creator of the symbol, Ola Jasionowska, a feminist graphic designer in Warsaw told ​Art Newspaper,​ she wanted to “create something universal that women could identify with regardless of their place of residence, character or expression”. The birth of the symbol was conceived from the basis Jasionowska wanted caution to be resonated with the sign that we as women don’t approve of our own being deprived of their essential human rights.

What can we do?
The future of Poland’s abortion law is uncertain as from the research we have comprehended, it is constantly revolving, but simultaneously are the women who are adapting their ways to gain absolute justice for their bodies. Protests have shown to be successful to a certain degree, but educating ourselves on the matter and supporting the cause on social media are pivotal methods of conveying unification and continuing the fight for transformation in society and authority who think they know better.

The Human Rights Watch is an independent international organisation who are known for distributing awareness on abuse, investigating, and exposing the truth and ‘pressuring those with power to respect rights and secure justice’. Their website features an array of vital reports regarding women’s rights news including information on reproductive rights and abortion.

A petition on Change.Org titled, ​‘Legalise abortions in Poland. Women deserve a choice!!’​ has also been circulating social media and has reached 130,000 signatures, a figure growing by the second. Doing even a small part such as signing a petition, supporting an organisation, and informing ourselves on the matter leads to larger wins. So, wear that crimson lightning bolt with honour and let’s help make a difference, not only for the women of today but also for the fierce females that will lead a brighter and freeing future.