Polish activist: Nothing is right about women’s rights in Poland

People take part in the nationwide women's strike 'Black Friday' to protest against the tightening of the abortion law in Katowice, Poland, 23 March 2018. [EPA-EFE/ANDRZEJ GRYGIEL]

On 23 March, tens of thousands of people hit the streets of Polish cities to protest against imposing further restrictions on the abortion law. Poland’s is one of the strictest in Europe, second only to Ireland, where a referendum aiming at liberalising access to abortion is planned for May 25.

The Polish Law on Family Planning from 1993 allows abortion in three instances: when the woman’s life or health is endangered; when pregnancy is the result of a criminal act; or when the foetus is seriously malformed. But in recent years new projects have aimed to ban abortion entirely or further curtail access to it.

The Black Monday rally organised on 3 October 2016 by the Polish Women on Strike (Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet), a movement founded by Marta Lempart, was a reaction to the bill aiming to ban abortion.

The rally on 23 March of this year, named Black Friday, was once again organised by the Polish Women on Strike, in the hope that it will force politicians to rethink their anti-abortionist stance, as they have already – for the time being – halted the bill.

As many as 75% of Poles oppose further restrictions on the abortion law, according to a March survey by Kantar Millward Brown.

Karolina Zbytniewska from EURACTIV Poland talked to Marta Lempart, the founder and leader of the Polish Women on Strike.

What is so wrong about women’s rights in Poland that you organise Black Marches?

Everything is wrong. That’s why we have five groups of postulates. The first one concerns reproductive rights. Not only abortion, which is banned in Poland with three narrow exceptions. Also the fact that we are about to lose perinatal care. All standards developed and pushed by the Giving Birth Humanly Foundation, the media, by all the institutions involved, including hospitals and doctors, are about to vanish. We are going towards giving birth “inhumanly”. The government is also taking in vitro away from us by legal tricks. Emergency contraception is also inaccessible.

That’s an overstatement. You can buy prescription pills.

In Warsaw – possibly. I’m talking about the real Poland. And Warsaw is not Poland, neither Wroclaw, nor Krakow, nor Poznan. Poland consists of three thousand municipalities. In most places, there is absolutely no chance to make it with the prescription on time when it comes to emergency contraception.

Today, doctors invoke the “conscience clause” not only to decline performing an abortion or recommend where else it could be carried out but they also no longer write prescriptions for emergency or regular contraception. Meanwhile, the government aims to allow the “conscience clause” also to pharmacists. Emergency contraception does not exist at all, and this was the point. Authorities do not hide that they don’t mean to limit access to contraception and abortion but prevent them completely.

Poland's abortion debate back in parliament

Poland’s abortion debate was back on the agenda on Wednesday (10 January), more than a year after tens of thousands of black-clad women successfully took to the streets in the Catholic country to stop the tightening of a law that is already one of the most restrictive in Europe.

There’s also the problem of domestic violence. According to police statistics, almost 70,000 women suffered domestic violence in 2015 and 400-500 women die as a result every year. At the same time, Law and Justice (PiS) government periodically considers withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention as it “aims above all at imposing the leftist worldview, concentrated around the gender vision of society in which ‘gender’ originates from a socio-cultural milieu, not being treated as a genetic fact”, as MEP Jadwiga Wiśniewska (PiS/ECR) said recently.

Protection against violence is the second group of our postulates. Currently, there is no funding for organisations dealing with this matter. There is still no isolation for perpetrators, no helpline for victims of violence, no funding for hotlines for children. Everything has been revoked since PiS came to power [in 2015]. As far as violence is concerned – the post-penitentiary fund supporting financially victims of violence, including anti-violence programmes – it all went to church organizations.

Beforehand, this money went to organisations dealing with violence and to victims, and now it’s going to be in the hands of the Catholic Church that basically recognizes domestic violence as a tradition to be dealt with “without breaking up the family” – making it impossible for women to escape violence.

Sexual education basically does not exist. That is, there is some sort of sick indoctrination instead. So, the third group of our postulates is a state free of superstitions. Meanwhile, catechists soon will become educators, religion is in fact mandatory in schools, we have – as mentioned above – the conscience clause in hospitals, which will soon also apply to pharmacies.

After all, entire regions are using it already. All over Podkarpackie Voivodship there is no legal abortion possible because all hospitals invoke the conscience clause.

The fourth group of postulates concerns economic issues: we protest the fact that we earn less, receive lower pensions, and the alimony fund is de facto cancelled as the income threshold has been unchanged for years [for 10 years it is has remained at the level of PLN 725 (eur 170) per person in a family]. As a result, up to 300,000 children will lose their benefits this year. And everyone in Poland knows how difficult the process of claiming alimony can be. But this is a problem that has always existed.

Single mothers do not receive money from the 500+ programme, because they are too ‘rich’ – in the Strike there are many women in that position. It is impossible not to mention also the mothers of disabled children, who are in 8 out of 10 cases abandoned by the child’s father.

It is not without a reason that the state treats women as its free caring potential.

Exactly. The childcare allowance in case of disability amounts to PLN 153 [45 euros a month] and is not increasing.

Back to the topic of abortion. Why do you think there are further attempts to completely ban it?

The government believes that it has a debt to pay to the Catholic Church. This is how it has always been and will always be. After all, the ban on abortion was introduced in 1993 – as a so-called “abortion compromise” that in my view was no compromise – as a trade deal with the Church. The Church gave its support in the elections, and politicians sold Polish women to the Church. They have sold our rights.

The first attempt in 2016 [which was followed by the Black Monday protests] was submitted by Ordo Iuris, a sect which is a part of the transnational TFP sect [Tradition, Family, and Property association]. Those people… administer huge amounts of money. And now, in March, the episcopate put its foot down again.

If abortion was criminalised, it would be much more expensive than today. Its price would double or triple, from today’s three-four thousand zloty to 10,000 [1 euro is worth c. 4.2 zloty]. If you earn the minimum wage [1,530 zloty net], you could pay off three thousand in two years. But with ten thousand, it’s impossible. So, there will be either an option to have a dangerous abortion on the black market, or a safer one for 10,000, which only rich people could afford. And let’s not delude ourselves, the prices will also increase in Slovakia and Germany. Polish women are the largest group of foreigners who use this procedure there.

Latin America lagging behind on women’s rights

Imprisoned for having an abortion, forced to keep a child born out of rape, pushed to commit suicide: women pay a heavy price in Latin America, where several countries’ legislation greatly restricts abortion. EURACTIV’s partner Euroefe reports.

Some 55,000 people took to the streets of Warsaw, up to 30,000 in other cities and towns to protest imposing further restrictions on the abortion law. Meanwhile, “Wiadomości” news on the public Polish Television 1 reported that “only a few thousand” turned out.

I don’t care about it, because it’s not true. And besides, people don’t watch it anyway.

They do watch. And it’s the real Poland who’s watching.

But their audience ratings are going down dramatically. Even PiS voters see it’s propaganda.

They are falling in Warsaw and in Wroclaw. Still, they have more than 2 million viewers.

For the first time in history of public broadcasting after 1989, they have been overtaken by two major news programmes broadcast by private television channels – not only by TVN’s “Fakty” but also Polsat’s “Wydarzenia”. And this is the national television that reaches people for free, so they should have a much higher audience than commercial stations.

In my opinion, the big problem with the fight for women’s rights – so de facto human rights – is that it is politically identified and, as a result, delegitimised as “another frenzy of leftist moral decay” collaborating with the “total opposition”.

This is normal, all human rights are political. And it’s obvious we are opposition. The government is trying to murder us, so it’s not surprising that we are against such a government.

Do you think that it is at all possible to make women’s rights universal, ‘above divisions’?

When it comes to PiS diehards, it is not. Those people hate women. But at protests like ours, there were also people who voted for PiS. I find the fact that this is a political matter very appropriate – because if we finally manage to overthrow this government, it will be clear who did it. Women.

But then a part of the society would feel excluded.

Which one? The one that believes that women should be in jail for miscarriage? I’ll live with that.

To engage everyone – it’s the fifth postulate of “Polish Women on Strike”. Almost 40 percent voted for PiS in 2015. Together with “Kukiz” and “Wolność” the support for conservative politicians adds up to over 50 percent. You exclude half of Poland. Maybe it’s worth opening a dialogue?

I want the state to be for everyone. Why should people who are religious not be there, why should there be no Church? This is normal, as long as it doesn’t interfere in the sphere of rights and freedoms. They cannot pursue a policy that leads to women losing their lives. Just like racists or neo-nazis cannot have the voice in the debate. Or woman-haters who want to force us to breed. Hatred is not an “opinion in the debate”.

EU Parliament urges Spain to scrap new abortion law

MEPs urged the Spanish government on Thursday to withdraw a new proposal that will restrict abortion rights in Spain.
In a bid to gather conservative support and keeping an electoral promise by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish government backed a proposal for a tougher abortion law earlier in December.
The new bill does not allow women to finish their pregnancy at an early stage, with the exception of rape cases or when the mother’s health is at risk.

Subscribe to our newsletters