Poland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the developed world, however this has not stopped the government wishing to introduce an even more restrictive law which seeks to ban abortion in all cases including rape and incest. The ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) is seeking to introduce the law but the prospect of this even stricter legislation being passed is on a knife edge due to parliamentary realities. The women of Poland have not delayed and have taken to the streets in protest around the country to make the issue as politically toxic as possible. Firstly I’ll look at how these courageous women are fighting before going ascertaining whether or not this law will pass.
Thousands of women across Poland took to the streets in the last few days. The protesters dressed in black to symbolise the death of their reproductive rights, thus making the protest at times appear like a mass funeral. Rallies were held in 60 cities around the country. Consequently universities, government offices, and hundreds of other workplaces closed because half of the workforce had completely downed tools.
The current law in Poland, which was celebrated as a compromise when it was passed in 1993, bans abortion in all circumstances except in cases where the mother’s life is at risk, rape, incest, and if the fetus is irreparably damaged. The new law would prohibit abortion in all cases with no exemptions. Further, under the new law a woman who got an abortion and the doctor who performed the procedure would receive a five year prison sentence.
The electoral dynamics of this situation are quite difficult to judge for a number of reasons. The first is that although PiS has a majority in the Sejm, the Polish Parliament, it’s not clear if all the parties deputies will support this bill. Another question mark is what other political parties will do. Most of the parties in Poland are right-wing, however this is not the end of the story. Some parties claim to defend civil liberties and so could come out in opposition to this law, but many others are Christian conservatives and therefore may well support the government’s bill.
But there is one more variable than simply considering ideology. All these political parties are run by politicians (obviously), and may well choose to oppose the government to score political points. Polls show that an even stricter abortion law isn’t supported by the public. According to a poll by Newsweek Polska, which was reported in the Krakow Post, 74% of Poles support the current law. Even if a right-wing party were to ideologically support the government’s position, the fact that PiS are divided may be enough to try and get some good publicity. Also PiS are having trouble in some opinion polls, and a high profile defeat may harden anti-government attitudes.
These brave women need all the solidarity they can get, and thankfully this has been displayed at rallies in cities across the world. Frankly, I don’t know what will happen with the legislation itself but the protesters appear to have popular support. Poland is an incredibly conservative country but it appears that even the entrenched Catholicism of this nation is not strong enough to support this Draconian law. For those of us who support tolerance and the rights of all people, this could be the start of a wider fracturing of social conservatism. If this is the case Poland will become a very interesting political case study in the coming years.