On Thursday 29 October, 70 students gathered in front of the The University of Sheffield’s Students’ Union to protest against the abortion ban that was implemented into Polish law on 22 October. Between holding coat hangers and harsh banners, the crowd of young, frustrated people, rhythmically jumped up and down to Polish chants and slogans, calling for pro-choice rights for all women. The engagement, anger, and frustration of the protesters were undeniable; for students entering the SU, it was impossible to walk by without stopping to watch them.
Women are not incubators!
The national-conservative party currently in power in Poland, Law and Justice, has been associated with anti-immigration, Euroscepticism and homophobia, but it is their tough treatment on women’s rights to abortion that has been flooding international media this past month. Poland’s highest court, the Constitutional Tribunal, where judges are mostly nominated by the Law and Justice party, legally challenged the Polish abortion law.
Despite Poland already having one of the strictest abortion laws in Europe, the new legislation would mean a near-total ban. Up until now, abortion was only allowed in three narrowly defined cases; if a woman’s life or health is in danger, if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, and lastly, in case of severe foetus disabilities. The latter has now been ruled as going against the Polish constitution by the Constitutional Tribunal, and since foetal malformation made up for 98% of all Polish terminations, this effectively makes abortion illegal.
Urodzę wam lewaka! – I would give birth to a leftist!
Over the past few weeks, hundreds of thousands of Poles have taken to the streets to protest. One of the Polish students who took part in the protest outside the Students’ Union was 20-year-old Politics student Marcelina Mazińska.
Marcelina is from Poland’s capital city, Warsaw, which she describes as more liberal than some of the rural areas. When asked how she feels about the new legislative change that has been made in her home country, “disappointed” and “angry” are the first words that come to her mind.
“I knew for a long time that bad things were happening in Poland, but I still had hope. This has definitely made me feel more pessimistic about the future of Poland,” she says. In conversation with the Polish women that organised the protest outside the SU, they explain that due to the entangled relation between right-wing party Law and Justice and the Catholic Church, the ban was not wholly unexpected. “Not only have they deprived women of fundamental human rights, but they have also undermined judicial independence,” say the protest organisers.
I wish I could abort Polish government!
The international community, as well as most human rights organisations, have gone on to express deep concerns about the impact this ban would have on Polish women. Marcelina is certain that this will lead to more illegal abortions and that women who have the resources will go abroad to have the termination, while others might be forced to move permanently to a more liberal country.
This is why the ban will have the most significant impact on poor women who cannot afford abortion abroad.
“It will affect both their mental and physical health. Some women may try to conduct unsafe abortions on their own, while others will be forced to give birth to a child that only will survive a few hours,” says Marcelina.
“Abortion is not something they do because they are ‘anti-family’, but abortion rights help protect healthy families; both mother and child.”
If men needed abortions it would be in every store!
The protest at the SU received great engagement. Polish students in Sheffield share a mutual feeling of frustration about being stuck in the UK and only being able to see what is going on in their home country from afar.
Marcelina says: “It has had a massive impact on our mental well-being. Being here in Sheffield, without any option to join the demonstrations, when we are aware that many of our friends and family are marching on the streets every day, ‘accompanied’ by squadrons of far-right followers – is very stressful.”
The organisers highlighted that hosting small demonstrations, both by the SU and the City Hall, has made them feel less helpless and in turn given them a chance to spread awareness. When asked if they would have joined the protests currently going on in Poland if they had been there, there is no hesitance in their voice: “Of course – it’s history, it’s solidarity, it’s the right cause”.
Women united, we’ll never be defeated!
The Polish students encourage all students of the University who want to show their support to Polish women to raise awareness via social media and the many online petitions, like that of Amnesty International. “The best is to educate yourself and others about what has happened – tell people about it,” adds Marcelina.
Despite the final and binding ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal, Polish people hope that the remarkable actions taken upon globally will have some impact on the situation in Poland. In response to the recent changes in Polish law, many European countries have started to offer free abortions for vulnerable women.
“I really love Poland, but it feels like my country doesn’t love me back.”
Update: As of now, the Abortion ban has been delayed due to the nation-wide protests that have been takin place since mid-October