[eng] Abortion in Polish

Article published on Oct. 26, 2016
Article published on Oct. 26, 2016

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

What was the law on abortion in Poland during the past 15 years? Why does the newest anti-abortion bill arouse so much controversy? What was the trigger for thousands of not politically involved polish women and men to walk out on the streets? Why polish women are trolling Beata Szydło, the Prime Minister, by using hash tag #ToughPeriod on her Facebook profile?

The answer is simple: we are pissed. There is one thing that we have in common – we are fed up with Church and politicians deciding for us about our bodies.

Freedom in times of oppression

What is the history of access to abortion in modern Poland? Before and after the World War II abortion was considered a crime and every woman could be subjected to punishment. There were two exceptions of this rule: when the medical board confirmed abortion is necessary, because of its negative effect on woman’s health and when there was a suspicion, that either rape, incest or intercourse with a girl under 15 have led to pregnancy.

In 1956 regulations became more women-friendly. One of the biggest changes were: allowing women with a difficult living conditions to terminate the pregnancy and total abolition of punishment for abortion. During almost four decades, women could freely decide whether to end their pregnancy or not. They did it because of many various, known only by them, reasons. We have heard a lot of our granny’s, aunt’s and mom’s stories about having an abortion during PRL (Polish People’s Republic) times and not seeing this as something extraordinary. These laws lasted untouched until 1993.

Compromise or betrayal?

After 40 years of so-called freedom, it’s no surprise that passing a more restricted bill in 1993 called „abortion compromise” triggered the wave of protests. Planned parenthood bill allowed abortion only in three situations:

  • When pregnancy could threat the female’s life or health

  • When there was a great possibility of severe and irreversible impairment of fetus

  • When pregnancy was the effect of prohibited act

  • In January 1997, abortion regulations were once again a bit softened: pregnancy termination was also allowed when fetus had a life-threatening illness and when women submitted written statement about hard living conditions or difficult personal issues.

    That last one was in fact waived by Constitutional Court in May 1997. Feminists see this as a betrayal of woman’s society till this day. This prohibition improved official reproduction statistics but in the same time it has created well-functioning backstreet abortion industry. Long after that time we still could have read ads in newspapers about „pharmacological period recovery”.

    Even though the polish abortion regulations are one of the most strict in Europe, women are not punished for terminating the pregnancy in the situation not predicted by the law. Punishing women was in fact one of the propositions in the new civil project of the bill about absolute prohibition of abortion.

    Civil project vs. Female Civilians

    Lately, Right Wing society has come up with the newest project of abortion bill and introduced us to even more strict regulations than before the World War II. This society is represented mainly by organizations like „Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture”, „Center of Supporting the Initiative for Life and Family”, foundation Pro-Right to Life, and Association named by Piotr Skarga.

    In the article called „Millions against women” we can read about how much hard work these organizations have put into implementation of the new strict law about absolute prohibition of abortion. Thanks to that hard work, they were able to collect signatures in favor of the new civil project, which in the same time outraged thousands of Polish men and women. Of course collecting all the signatures don’t automatically mean that the new bill will pass.  However, new project was advocated by Prime Minister Beata Szydło  as well as the president of the ruling party Jarosław Kaczyński.

    Battle on many fronts

    It is worth mentioning the importance of the language and emotions expressed by using it in this battle. Feminists society has been fighting for years to bring back the proper meaning of the words, for example by using phrases like “embryo”, “fetus” and “infant” only with the reference to newest medical knowledge. Unfortunately, pro-life society’s consistent activities resulted with implementation in colloquial speech more emotional phrases like “unborn life” and “unborn child”, which are making it harder to have a substantive  discussion about the medical procedure such as terminating the pregnancy. 

    Polish women have been using service of foreign doctors for years. They are also terminating the pregnancy by using pharmaceuticals in their own homes and they are often left alone with that painful experience. Even if there is a doctor’s recommendation for an abortion, it is not certain that such procedure will be performed. The possibility of using morning after pill called EllaOne is also compromised –minister of health Konstanty Radziwiłł is against that resolution, as he stated in many interviews.  It is also worth saying that Poland do not have such thing like “Sexual Education” in schools. Instead of it there is a subject called “Family Life Education”, which is used to manipulate the facts or to discuss Christian values.

    It is hard to list all the factors that pushed Polish women to grab The Hanger and go out on the streets to take a stand in this battle.  Quiet discussion which for years involved only feminists, now became a national matter. Many women in Poland still distance themselves from feminists society and abortion has been a kind of taboo till now. Fortunately, when it comes to the bill, which interferes so much with the matters of women’s bodies and intimate life and takes away their freedom of choice as well as dignity, Polish women are ready to go out on the streets and fight for their rights with everything they can, in this case with The Hanger - the most noticeable symbol of backstreet abortion industry.

    To read more articles of the author, go to her blog Lady Pasztet.