By Boyan Stanislavski* – Barricade
The recent ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal in Poland is the latest episode in the 30-year long war on women in that country. It is disgusting and enraging but it is a part of a process that has been going on since 1988.
Poland has had one of the most draconian anti-abortion laws in Europe since 1993. On Thursday a constitutional court ruled that one of the three exceptions to the ban – cases of severe foetal impairment – contravenes the constitution; abortion where “prenatal tests or other medical indications indicate a high probability of severe and irreversible foetal impairment or an incurable life-threatening disease” is a violation of the constitutional right to life. These cases, which the Catholic fundamentalist activists have recently started calling “eugenic abortion,” make up almost all of the generally small number of abortions conducted legally in Poland. It was to be expected that the judges would come up with exactly this verdict since the ruling right-wing hardliners, Law & Justice, started eroding this institution shortly after winning the parliamentary elections in 2015 and stuffing it with obedient apparatchiks. Some of the personages among what is supposed to be the highest judicial body in the country are absurd ultra-conservative muppets who would look more at home as characters in a massive meme production rather than any legal institution.
The ruling came as Poland struggles with a second wave of coronavirus cases approaching 15,000 people a day and legal restrictions drastically shrinking civic liberties, including the right to gather. Considering the most recent witch hunt against the LGBT community in Poland and the amount of police violence this involved, it was clear from the beginning that all progressives are facing some very serious state repression. Despite that, after the Tribunal’s ruling surfaced in the media on Thursday afternoon, people started spontaneously gathering in front of its building. At the same time another group gathered at the Law & Justice headquarters in the centre of Warsaw and a third one started congregating outside the home of Jaros?aw Kaczy?ski, the powerful deputy prime minister and chairman of the party who had full control of the internal political process in Poland even before officially entering the government. Thousands of police were deployed to guard him. The protest would have lasted until the morning had it not been for the police making repeated raids on the peaceful demonstrators, using pepper spray and batons and arresting nearly 20 people.
Today the protests will be held in all the biggest cities around the country; people are sharing advice on safety measures, and lawyers are urging the potentially detained to refuse any discussion with police and are providing their phone numbers on the social networks promising they will be up all night. In ?ód?, a “funeral for women’s rights” is planned for this evening, while protesters will gather in Warsaw again. “In a few days, hell for women will begin in this country,” reads the description for a Facebook protest event organised in the city of Gda?sk on the Baltic Sea coast this weekend, in which participants are encouraged to block major traffic intersections.
Obviously, Polish women are up for a serious confrontation. It is too early to say whether they will be able to gain the same momentum as in 2016, during the famous Black Protest when Kaczy?ski first attempted to introduce a full ban on abortions and had to retreat. Yet it is certainly not out of the question.
It is also very difficult for Law & Justice because what they are doing through their people in the Constitutional Tribunal is plain and simple corruption. The Church and its vanguards — various fundamentalist NGOs — have been waiting for quite some time already for Kaczy?ski to pay up for the support they provided during the last six elections won by his party. The timing, amidst massive numbers of SARS-Cov-2 cases, with brutal restrictions of individual freedoms in place, makes it all particularly cynical. Not only towards women in general, not only towards progressives but pretty much against the entire society, which is 70-80 percent (depending on the pollster) against any further restrictions on the law regulating abortion.
But we are used to the cynical and disgusting behaviour of Kaczy?ski and other leaders of his party. What often escapes the attention of public opinion is that all this is not just because of Law & Justice — the process started long ago and has always been an integral part of the capitalist restoration in Poland. The episcopate launched its first hysterical campaign against abortions, which in the People’s Republic were free and widely available, back in 1988. With no other purpose than to secure a place in the process of the new division of power. It worked. Five years later the Catholic fundamentalists were represented not just in mainstream politics and media, but in the council of ministers. In 1993 the PM Hanna Suchocka, the first outspoken bigot leading a Polish government after 1989, banned abortions, allowing only three exceptions. Now, when the ruling comes into effect, abortion will only be permissible in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the mother’s health and life. And it is only a matter of time until these two conditions are lifted.
Ever since it was implemented, the ban of 1993 has deceitfully been called a “compromise on abortions” portraying it as the result of some sort of social agreement which it never was — people were massively against it at the time. It served as a fundamental factor to swing the entire pendulum to the right. The dominating propaganda was that abortion is sinful, evil, and extremely immoral; women who intended to terminate their pregnancy were publicly shamed as reckless, thoughtless, selfish, immature and provocative. Abortions were presented as if only evil, highly demoralized women could be actually having them, let alone advocating them. Polish women were systematically pathologized and denied the basic right to decide about their lives. Those standing against the increasing Catholic fundamentalism have been called madmen and extremists. Not only by the predecessors of Law & Justice, but by the very same media and politicians who are today posturing as democrats and progressives — the poor Polish copy of the New York Times, Gazeta Wyborcza, and Donald Tusk’s party, the Civic Platform.
Tusk and Kaczy?ski are equally responsible for designing this misogynistic inferno. Thirty years on, the so-called “peaceful transition” reaps a harvest yet again. It first made us poor, and now bigoted.
*Bulgarian and Polish activist, journalist, editor, publisher and translator. In the late `90 active in the Polish left and later in the labor movement, particularly the biggest Polish labor confederation — The All-Poland Trade Union Alliance. Until 2012 editor-in-chief of its weekly magazine. Contributor at Baricada.org and Strajk.eu, Polish correspondent for the Bulgarian National Radio. Currently working as an editor and journalist for the Polish labor portal Strike.