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Tens of thousands of women have taken to the streets of Poland in an uprising against living in a "female hell". The Constitutional Court has effectively banned abortion, by ruling it unconstitutional in cases of severe foetal abnormalities. These accounted for 96% of the just 1,100 abortions that took place legally in the country, last year.
With placards declaring, "I wish I could abort my government", demonstrators have come out in their tens of thousands, not just in Warsaw and major cities but also in the small towns that have been bastions of support for the ruling PiS (Law and Justice Party). They have been joined by miners, farmers, LGBT protesters, and other angry groups.
If the PiS thought that an attack on abortion would act as a diversion from its inept handling of the Covid pandemic, the opposite has been the case. Defying coronavirus restrictions, the abortion protests have become a lightning rod for the immense social discontent that has accumulated against the reactionary government, including over Covid.
In 2016, the government was forced by mass street protests, which inspired movements of women internationally, to back down from its attempt, using the Catholic Church, to criminalise abortion.
This time, under cover of Covid restrictions, the PiS bypassed parliament and instead went through the Constitutional Court, packed with its cronies.
Even before the court ruling, Poland had one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. Only 10% of hospitals carried out legal abortions. Now, all abortion is criminalised, except in the rare case of rape, incest, or if the mother's life is under threat. As one protester said, women are being turned into human incubators, 'tortured' and forced to give birth even to a dead foetus.
According to women's organisations, every year 80,000-100,000 Polish women leave the country to have an abortion. So it will be working-class and low-income women who don't have the means to travel who will be especially 'living in hell'.
On 28 October, protesters organised a nationwide women's strike with mass street demonstrations in 400 towns and cities, and numbering over 400,000 demonstrators in total. And two days later, over 100,000 jammed into Warsaw's streets to express their anger with the ruling PiS government.
The next step, along with organising more mass demonstrations, should be industrial action; including a 24-hour general strike of all workers and an escalation, if necessary, to demand that the reactionary court ruling be overturned.
The movement must demand that all women have access to safe abortion, and that the economic resources be made available for healthcare, safe contraception, affordable childcare, and so forth. This would enable women to have a real right to choose when and whether to have children, and to do so free from poverty and religious interference.
But the movement has the potential to go much further: drawing together all those who oppose the PiS government's attacks on women's rights, LGBT rights, democratic and workers' rights, and the economic effects of the Covid pandemic - laying the basis for a mass party that could fight for the interests of workers and all oppressed groups in capitalist society.
On 1 November, 600 people, mainly Polish women and their allies, gathered in Birmingham for 'Piekło Kobiet (Women's Hell) Polish Women on Strike', to protest in solidary with women in Poland fighting for their reproductive rights.
Right from the start, protesters vented their anger at the Polish government, chanting in both Polish and English. The Socialist Party's solidarity was well received, and we were the only political group giving out leaflets (partially in Polish) displaying our key demands, many of which were accepted with enthusiasm.
A member of our branch spoke in solidarity on the party's behalf to the crowd, and stated our demands for free public healthcare, including safe abortions, as well as our fight for the right to make this choice free from poverty. Again, we were the only political group to speak, and this call for justice for the women of Poland was met with further chanting and gestures of solidarity.
"Myślę, czuję, decyduję" - I think, I feel, I decide! Around 500 chanted around the statue of Eros at Piccadilly Circus, central London, on 1 November. Synchronised pogo-jumping also formed part of the protest!
Polish women held home-made placards with the movement's thunderbolt emblem, and slogans like "I will not be a human coffin" and "You will never walk alone." A good number of men joined too, reflecting changing attitudes and the generalised anger against the vicious, anti-worker PiS government.
Hundreds of protesters took our Socialist Party leaflets expressing solidarity and proposing ideas for the fightback in Poland. One man read out the leaflet's demands and explained them to his family. Curious passers-by were quick to lend their support as well.
"The main reason for organising a protest in Southampton is to show solidarity with Polish women living in Poland. The protests in Poland escalated quickly in size and range and are taking place in towns which have not protested so massively since communist times!
Before the fall of communism, abortion rights in Poland were among the most liberal in Europe. Upon the system transformation [to capitalism] in 1989, the Catholic Church's influence on Polish politics began to increase, which soon after resulted in limiting the abortion rights.
The ruling PiS party, under lockdown, used the Tribunal Court, which they have had influence in since 2015, to decide that the right to abortion on the grounds of foetal impairment was against the Polish constitution. This ruling was clearly politically motivated and influenced by the ruling party, which has been trying to make abortion completely illegal.
I think the dominant feeling among Polish women in Poland and elsewhere is one of anger. One can clearly see in opinion polls that Polish people are in favour of making abortion rights more liberal, rather than even more limited.
Polish women have seen the court ruling as a symbol of the state treating them instrumentally, some say as 'incubators'.
Also, many people are protesting for women's and LGBT people's rights, which have also been attacked by the openly homophobic government. The main slogan of protests so far has been 'solidarity is our weapon'."
On 31 October, 200 protesters gathered in Nottingham's Market Square to speak out against a further tightening of Poland's already restrictive abortion laws. This was the second solidarity demo in the city.
Despite the tier-3 restrictions currently in effect in Nottingham, the masked and socially distanced crowd voiced anger against Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and its aggressive anti-abortion stance.
The speeches, mostly in Polish but with some in English, had regular stops for chanting (leaflets were distributed with pronunciation guides for non-Polish speakers).
Labour MP Nadia Whittome was present and promised support, but Socialist Party members were the only political group distributing material.
What was noticeable, however, was the absence of a clear call by speakers for a working-class alternative party and programme in Poland, to positively channel the anger of protesters there.
We think building this alternative is needed urgently to really challenge the rule of PiS.
At the 300+ strong protest in Leicester there were a wide variety of placards saying: 'My Body, My Choice', F**k PiS (the ruling party in Poland), and 'I wish I could abort my government'. We brought solidarity from the Socialist Party and the Committee for a Workers' International.
We spoke with protesters, agreeing with their demand for constitutional change, but also arguing for our party demands: for the real choice whether to have children and to do so free from poverty and religious interference, which was well received.
We sold the Socialist and all our leaflets were taken. We also discussed with one of the organisers about putting her in touch with Nigerian students, who wanted more support for their solidarity demos against state repression in Leicester.
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Article dated 4 November 2020
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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