03 Oct 2017

A year after their famous march, women in Poland are reopening their umbrellas

Tuesday marks a year since thousands of women protested in the streets, in their workplaces, and in their homes, against an attack on their reproductive liberties. A year ago to the day, women have to do it again.

Zuzanna Piechowicz
Zuzanna Piechowicz Tok FM, Poland
Source: Tok FM
A year after their famous march, women in Poland are reopening their umbrellas - NewsMavens
Black Protest posters. Photo: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Why this story matters:

Abortion has been a controversial issue on the political agenda in Poland since the 90s. 

Tuesday marks a year since thousands of women protested in the streets, in their workplaces, and in their homes, against an attack on their reproductive liberties.

A year ago to the day, women have to do it again.

A new bill has been drawn up to further limit the already restrictive abortion laws in Poland. 

As it is, abortion here is only possible when pregnancy poses a threat to a woman's life or wellbeing, when it is the result of rape, or when the fetus is seriously and incurably ill or damaged. Even when one of those criteria is met, getting an abortion is really hard, if not impossible

Today, conservative groups are calling to cut one of those criteria. They want to ban the termination of severely and irreversibly damaged and ill fetuses, even those which have no real chance of postnatal survival.

Protesters want not only to stop the new bill, they're petitioning for more lax laws which would legalize all abortions up until the 12th week of pregnancy, and only in the three extreme cases allowed under the current laws after that.

But abortion is only one of many issues facing women in Poland today. A piece of our reproductive freedoms was taken away this past year when the government made the morning-after pill available by prescription only.

And by the way, the doctor doesn't have to give you one. She/he can call on the "conscience clause" and refuse to prescribe you the pill because it's against her/his religion.

It doesn't stop there. Marek Michalak, the Children's Rights Ombudsman in Poland, has drawn up a bill to "protect unborn children from the effects of alcohol and drugs".

It sounds innocent enough, but he proposes saving babies from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome by forcing at-risk pregnant women to be treated in institutions -- without clearly defining what 'at-risk' means -- and allowing the community to report pregnant women to the authorities for 'misbehaving' while pregnant, which could see treatment imposed on them, as well.

Today's attempts to curb our reproductive freedoms may sound familiar to fans of Margaret Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale', but for women in Poland they are not fiction. They are a recurring and very real threat. And, if we can help it, they are far from a done deal.

Last year, women protested because making decisions for people who are faced with a moral dilemma is not any kind of protection, certainly not of the sanctity of life. It's oppression. It's people -- clergy, medics, suits -- taking power and taking control. 

Just like last year, today, women in Poland will return to the streets. And just like last year, it's raining and we'll raise our umbrellas. 

By the way, last year's Black Protest and the organization behind it, the All-Poland Women's Strike, were distinguished by TOK FM radio for their "unique impact on reality". The award was bestowed on a group of teachers from a small Polish town who faced disciplinary action after supporting the protests by wearing black to work and posting their photo to social media.

Details from the story:

  • The All-Poland Women's Strike is encouraging women to take to the streets on October 3, the anniversary of the Black Monday march
  • Last year, 250,000 women marched in protest of proposed, stricter abortion laws, according to the march's organizers
  • A further 250,000 women went on strike, while 500,000 people dressed in black, the organizers said
  • Women in 50 cities in Poland and abroad will protest on October 3, 2017

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NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
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