The Greens are one of the main members of the ‘Ratujmy Kobiety’ (‘Rescue Women’) committee that gathered over 215 000 signatures for the liberalisation of the abortion law. When the Polish Parliament decided to proceed with the ‘Stop Abortion’ project and reject the Ratujmy Kobiety liberalisation project, black protests started in Poland. This was the first time in modern Polish history that hundreds of thousands of Poles protested on the streets to protect women’s rights. The Greens took part in the main protests and demonstrations. Right now, they continue fighting for the liberalisation of an abortion law and are co-organising the second ‘Polish women on strike’ protest (the second ‘Black Monday’). Below, Małgorzata Tracz shares her experience of Poland’s black protest to defend women’s rights.
Eliana Capretti: What is your assessment after the vote in the Polish Parliament that rejected the plans for a total ban on abortion?
Małgorzata Tracz: The result of the vote was a big surprise for Polish citizens and women’s rights activists. The parliamentary majority seemed to be committed to working on the project of the abortion ban, and many MPs from the governing PiS party and Kukiz’15 officially supported the Stop Abortion initiative. The scale of the protest was amazing not only because over a hundred thousand people were on the streets protesting that day, but also because the protests took place not just in big cities, but also in small towns, where people are not anonymous and need to have a lot of courage to express their views. A survey conducted two days after the protest by Millward Brown showed that over 65% of Polish society supported the black protest and regard the project of the abortion ban and penalising women that terminate pregnancy as wholly unacceptable.
Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of PiS, knew that the situation had got out of control and his party was in a kind of trap. On one hand, the pro-life organisations – the core voters of PiS – were promised wider ‘protection of unborn life’ and expected further work on the abortion ban project. On the other hand, some PiS voters will no doubt turn away from the party.
The vote was a test for the unity of the PiS party and Kaczyński’s leadership. He managed to convince the vast majority of deputies to reject the project that they had supported only a few weeks ago. The whole abortion issue – starting with the decision of the Polish Parliament to proceed with the Stop Abortion project and reject the Ratujmy Kobiety liberalisation project, was also a kind of cover for forcing unpopular decisions of the government. These decisions, such as increasing electricity and water prices further, distracted from the parliamentary debate on CETA (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement).
How can this momentum be used to mobilise other countries on the same issue?
The main trigger for the Polish national protest came out via social media activity. Firstly, when the project of the abortion ban was announced in April 2016, and secondly, when the Parliament decided to work further on this project and rejected the project of liberalisation. The hashtags #czarnyprotest (#blackprotest) and #czarnyponiedziałek (#blackmonday) were two of the most popular on Polish social media. Many women and men became involved in the action on social media and then started wearing black and organising protests. Social media is a powerful tool nowadays and the formula of a black protest is universal and may be used in other countries.
The black protest in Poland is still going on. More information about it in the media and on social media in European countries will create more chances to spread the message.
How much did the international support count in the final result?
International support played a vital role in putting pressure on the Polish Parliament that was losing even more credibility in the eyes of the international community. But the support was also extremely important for everybody that actively participated in the protests. That was the most significant gesture of international solidarity.
In your opinion, is this success just temporary? Could you give us an evaluation from you and other advocacy stakeholders?
It is just a small step in the fight for reproductive rights for Polish women. I am afraid that the current ‘abortion compromise’, which is in fact one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the European Union, will be replaced with a new compromise. This would limit legal abortion to be carried out only in cases of rape or when a pregnant woman’s life is in danger. The current law which allows the abortion of severe and irreversible impairment of the fetus would be overturned. Officially, Prime Minister Beata Szydło has already announced a national plan of support for the parents of disabled children and a social campaign to encourage women to give birth to children with severe and irreversible impairment. Unofficially, the deputies of PiS claim to be preparing a new project that would restrict the current compromise.
That is why the black protests are not finished. Women’s rights activists and left-wing political parties feel a need to monitor the steps taken by the deputies of PiS. The second Polish strike of women is already being planned and will take place on October 24 2016.
Where do you now see the real danger?
Right-wing parties would use the opportunity to restrict the abortion law. They would try to change the focus of the public debate from women’s rights into the protection of unborn life and then present the new project of abortion law that would be a ‘new compromise’ between the current compromise and the abortion ban project that was recently rejected by Parliament.
Given the current situation, how could abortion laws in Poland not just be defended but also improved?
In the early 90s, the Polish Parliament rejected the request for a referendum on abortion. Despite being supported by over two million Poles, the Parliament and the Catholic Church agreed a compromise that took most reproductive rights away from women. The debate about the liberalisation of the abortion law thereafter, however, disappeared. For years, the media and politicians of different political stances claimed that the compromise was a good solution and shouldn’t be changed. The attempt to restrict the compromise opened the debate again and more and more Poles questioned the myth of the compromise and have started supporting women’s rights.
With the current government, we cannot expect the liberalisation of the abortion law – quite the opposite. However, the reopening of the debate provides the opportunity to reject compromise and widen the social understanding for regaining full women’s rights.
This was originally published on the European Greens website.