On October 22nd 2020, Poland’s constitutional courts ruled that abortion on the basis of fetal defects was unconstitutional. Abortion is already illegal in Poland, with only three exceptions: in the case of rape/incest, when the mother’s life is in danger, and fetal defects. However, now with the new ruling from the court, only the previous two will be allowed, which only made up around 3% of abortion cases in 2019.
As a result of the court’s ruling, on the 28th of October, over 400,000 people gathered in 400 towns across Poland to protest the ruling, calling it a “women’s strike.” During the most recent protest on Saturday the 31st of October, over 100,000 people gathered in the streets of Warsaw to protest the ruling, describing it as an attack on women’s rights and a step backwards.
This decision by the Polish court falls directly in line with the party ideology of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS). PiS is a ring wing political party who has been in power in Poland since 2015. They have come to headlines many times for moving Poland towards a more fascist ideology and also because they have changed the Polish constitution. As a result of several of their actions, the European Union has tried to restrict Poland’s voting rights, but all attempts have failed due to Hungary blocking the vote.
The leader of the PiS and Poland’s President, Andrzej Duda, stated on Friday the 30th of October that abortions for terminal fetal defects would be allowed, in an attempt to appease the protesters in Poland and activists across the world. However, some have said that this “legislative solution” is false hope and the words of Duda are not to be believed. However, there is some hope that the continuous protests and international attention will force Duda to go back on the ruling. This is uncertain.
Many of the protests in the past week have focused on PiS and calling attention to the undemocratic ways of the government, but also to their agenda, moving more and more towards fascism and the Church. Many of the protests chanted anti-PiS slogans and “I think, I feel.” One startling image was one of a woman dressed as a religious idol, with blood dripping from her eyes, stating, “I will not be a living coffin.”
However, Poland is considered to be one of the most religious countries in the European Union with 90% of the population identifying as Roman Catholic. PiS has close-knit ties with the religious communities in Poland and has very much made returning to the Church part of their manifesto. Despite the religiosity of Poland, it hasn’t stopped women from using the church to protest the abortion ban. Women have famously dressed up in red robes and white caps from the Handmaid’s Tale, which has now become a symbol of women’s oppression, and walked through Sunday services in churches across Poland.
All we know for now is that until the Polish government comes out with concrete legislation, and perhaps even after, pro-choice protests will continue to happen across Poland.