Abortion in Poland: women fight for their rights

The protests in Poland against more stringent abortion legislation are continuing, with roughly 100,000 people demonstrating and paralysing traffic in Warsaw on Friday. The Constitutional Court had declared abortion illegal even in the case of severe foetal defects, further tightening one of the strictest abortion laws in Europe.

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Observador (PT) /

The witch-hunt continues

In Observador, activist Carolina Pereira compares the new abortion law with the witch-hunts of past centuries:

“Witchcraft was long considered a crime and could be punished with imprisonment, the pillory or execution. ... The reality in Poland could hardly be more similar to this horror story. Just like the fact that if things continue at the current pace gender equality will not be achieved for another 99 years. Today the feminist movement uses the term 'witch' as a symbol of empowerment and resilience. Today Poles are taking to the streets in a joint call for freedom. For me, the current situation is not just about feminism, witchcraft or what is happening in Poland. It is about about freedom, human rights, dignity and equality.”

Lrt (LT) /

Lithuania must take a clear stance

Vaiva Rykštaitė also sees parallels with a witch-hunt. The Lithuanian government coalition led by three women should condemn the situation in Poland, she writes in Lrt:

“It's difficult to understand how a witch-hunt can take place in a supposedly democratic country in today's Europe. But it can't be called anything else. Because if abortions are illegal, every woman who seeks such a solution becomes a criminal. ... When we look at the protests in our neighbour to the south and the conflicts that separate even President Duda and the radical conservative party leader Kaczyński, we can only hope that our elected leaders in Lithuania will take a clear, firm stance on what is going on.”

Novaya Gazeta (RU) /

Women degraded to incubator status

The ban on abortion is misogynist and has little to do with religious convictions, psychologist Sara Arutyunian writes in Novaya Gazeta:

“There are always very pious, religious people, however they aren't the driving force behind such inhuman decisions. No, such laws are driven by white heterosexual Orthodox men for whom women must be and remain incubators for children - even dead children. What they have decided is madness: even if we know there is a 98 percent chance a child will die, it must be carried to term and born so that it can be baptised and buried. For any European country that is simply beyond good and evil.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Less hatred, more communication

Hatred and insults have no place at the demonstrations, stresses journalist Dawid Warszawksi in Gazeta Wyborcza:

“During the protests the rallying cry 'Piss off!' was taken even further in the sea of gripping, brilliant and creative slogans: 'All of Poland is singing with us: piss off, PiS!' That is wishful thinking because after all, only half of Poland is singing with us. The other half voted for PiS. ... I assume that those who are singing the slogan want to embarrass the other half into changing their views. Yet I assume that that will reinforce their views. They do not want to live in our Poland, and we do not want to live in theirs. And since neither side is prepared to leave, the only way forward is to challenge the other one to do so. Unless we talk, that is. But how are they supposed to talk to us if we want them to piss off?”

Népszava (HU) /

The church backed the wrong horse

Népszava believes that the strong support that the Catholic Church in Poland could always rely on could now be lost:

“The Polish Catholic Church finds itself in a situation where the only path is its demise. ... There are indeed those within the church leadership who feel they would be making a fatal error if they openly supported this decision which is rejected by 70 percent of the population. ... The church's highest body, the Conference of Bishops, hastily called for a dialogue. But it is already too late. Now the church is learning first hand what happens if it does not openly distance itself from the extremists who use religion as an instrument.”

Adevărul (RO) /

Women elsewhere are afraid too

Rome, Lisbon and Stockholm also saw demonstrations in support of Polish women. This wave of solidarity does not surprise human rights activist Roxana Dumitrache in the slightest, as she writes in Adevărul:

“The sum of all these fears exists because Europe is becoming an ever more claustrophobic place for women. A Europe where states ban gender studies; where differences in income between women and men as well as violence against women are widespread; where rape is justified on moral grounds and the most vehement pro-life advocates are those who cannot even give birth: men. ... It is a Europe that could return to dark times when women lost their lives because of kitchen-table abortions performed with coat hangers and knitting needles.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Kaczyński can't put this genie back in the bottle

The nationwide protests have taken PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński by surprise, authors Karolina Wigura and Jarosław Kuisz are convinced in The Guardian:

“This time, however, the populist playbook isn't quite working. A new political faultline has been created and Kaczyński can't control the outcome or put the genie back in the bottle. He has another three years until elections but women who had shown no interest in party politics are outraged and on the march. ... Almost 300 years ago, Montesquieu noted that while a despot is busy enslaving his subjects he may also be enslaving himself. This is the trap the embattled Kaczyński is falling into. ... And it could eventually consign him to the scrapheap of Polish history.”

Denik (CZ) /

The majority remains silent

Deník doesn't think anything will come of the protests:

“Can this ruling in favour of tightening the abortion law be overturned? Did the PiS turn the imaginary screw too tight? Can the current demonstrations change Poland? Hardly. Those who've been going out to demonstrate for women's rights for the past week hope they can, but there's still a large silent mass of people in Poland who are satisfied with the PiS's policies. And they are in the majority, as all the election results of recent years have shown.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Women's rights take precedence over health

Commenting in Gazeta Wyborcza, journalist Eliza Michalik defends those who are demonstrating despite the pandemic and the danger of contagion:

“They didn't choose this state of affairs. They're simply reacting to the situation brought about by the PiS-occupied Constitutional Court's ruling that forces women to give birth to irreversibly damaged and deformed fetuses. ... We Polish women have no choice. If there are no protests, if we remain silent, it will be taken as a sign of consent to further violence and oppression.”

Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

A global battlefield

The Tages-Anzeiger notes that the female body is still being abused worldwide for ideological battles:

“The proclaimed 'duty to protect unborn life' always at the same time means the disenfranchisement of women. Faced with one of the most personal and difficult decisions a woman can make, her own will counts for nothing. Beyond the personal level, the tightening of abortion laws worldwide is symbolic of the continued unequal distribution of power between men and women. The 'baby factories' of human traffickers in Nigeria, the systematic rape of Yezidi women, and now the Polish women forced to give birth - the female body is being used as a battlefield for ideological campaigns.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

The number of illegal abortions will go up

Now even more Polish women will have illegal abortions, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung is convinced:

“Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the governing PiS party and Poland's strongman, had already explained four years ago what the issue was: the child should be baptised before it is buried. What the parents want is not important. This is inhuman. ... Poland already has abortion legislation that ignores women's right to self-determination. ... Officially, the country recorded only 1,100 abortions last year. But the women's organisation Federa estimates that more than 100,000 Polish women have abortions every year - either in neighbouring countries or illegally, accepting health risks. This number will now definitely increase.”

Berliner Zeitung (DE) /

A threat to domestic peace

For the Berliner Zeitung the Constitutional Court's decision confirms the worst fears:

“The judicial reform was carried out with the aim of politicising Poland's highest court. Fourteen out of fifteen Constitutional Court judges were appointed by a parliament in which the PiS government has an absolute majority. Now the Court has shown that it does not weigh up the arguments and does not seek compromise, but is merely an instrument for the conservatives to wield power. This judgment endangers Poland's domestic peace.”

Le Monde (FR) /

Farewell, liberal Europe

For Le Monde, Poland is caught up in a worrying process of regression:

“Of the approximately 1,100 legal abortions performed in Poland in 2019, 98 percent were due to foetal malformations. Therefore, the Constitutional Court's decision amounted to a de facto ban on abortion for Polish women. This is another sign that Jarosław Kaczyński's Poland is moving away from the liberal values prevalent in the majority of EU member states. ... The regression on social issues goes so far that even President Andrzej Duda, although a true conservative, had to distance himself this week from statements by Minister of Education Przemysław Czarnek, who claims that women were created to bring children into the world.”

Mérce (HU) /

Church increasingly interfering in politics

The President of the Hungarian Bishops' Conference, Bishop András Veres, recently called for a ban on artificial insemination, describing it as a grave sin. Mérce warns that Hungary is not all that far away from the state of affairs in Poland:

“Things have gone so far that the Church, which is against abortion and wants to abolish or restrict women's reproductive rights, is directly interfering in our politics. ... This is a very serious warning for all of us that the churches have returned to a decision-making role in Hungary too. We are ever further from the desirable principle of the separation of church and state.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

A cynical ploy

The verdict is a scandal, the Süddeutsche Zeitung fumes:

“It's no coincidence that the decision has been handed down now. The government led by Kaczyński's national populist PiS party has been damaged by a number of scandals. In addition, after months of mistakes and neglegence in Poland's hospitals and administrations, it is now partly responsible for the explosive increase in the number of coronavirus cases. A diversionary manoeuvre is just what it needed. ... Without the corona restrictions, tens or hundreds of thousands of Polish women would be taking to the streets against the abortion ban. But for now there will be no mass protests. This is just the sort of cynical ploy that has long been a characteristic of this government.”

OKO.press (PL) /

The majority doesn't want this

The website OKO.press appeals to the opposition to take up the issue more intensively:

“The majority of Poles are definitely against such a tightening of the current abortion law. Whether today's brutal attack on women's rights will translate into new support among Poles for the opposition now depends entirely on how well the opposition manages to convince voters that the decision of the Constitutional Court is not a technical issue but depends on the political will of the ruling party.”