Following a magnificent show of force on ‘Black Monday’ – with women striking and mass street protests - the ruling party in Poland, Law and Justice (PiS), has made a huge U-turn, throwing the draft law proposing a total ban on abortion into the dustbin.
Breaking parliamentary procedure, an emergency meeting of a draft bill committee was called in order to hurriedly reject the draft law. The next day the recommendations of the committee were presented to parliament, which also immediately rejected the draft law.
Some activists are playing down the significance of events of last week out of a genuine and correct concern to keep the movement going. However, we must stress that while the struggle is far from over, with new attempts to tighten the anti-abortion law in preparation, the ruling party's panicked U-turn is nevertheless a huge victory. This would not have been possible without the mass mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of women.
The most striking feature of Black Monday was the huge number of young women taking part in the protests on Black Monday. School students organised strikes and got involved in a political struggle for the first time, often despite threats of physical violence and intimidation. Women in small towns all over Poland took part in the protests, with many institutions reporting 60% participation in the strike.
This struggle, and the success that it achieved on Black Monday, has also been an inspiration to women all over the world, giving them confidence and showing that entering into struggle can make a difference.
Struggle must continue
However, the struggle is far from over – already we hear of new draft laws introducing further restrictions on abortion rights. One such draft law already submitted to parliament would impose a total ban on abortion, as well as a ban on the day after pill, with a two year prison sentence for anyone selling, advertising or making available such hormonal contraception. Meanwhile, PiS is under pressure from its right-wing supporters. It is rumoured to be preparing a so-called “compromise” draft law which would ban abortion in cases when the foetus is malformed, but continue to allow abortion in the case of rape and when the woman's life is endangered.
That is why the pressure must be stepped up. The task now is to help women get organised and build for the next big protest – ‘Women's Strike II’ – on 24 October.
Democratic committees should be created on a local basis in the schools, universities and workplaces to involve the widest layer of women and men. These should be linked up on a city-wide basis, with democratic representation on a national level, in order to coordinate activities and actions. There should be full democratic accountability of representatives, at all levels.
The movement must also clearly demand liberalisation of the law. We have seen that when we boldly demand full access to abortion on demand and counter the arguments of the right-wing, we can and do win people over to our side. Thanks to the tireless campaigning work of thousands of women, public opinion is shifting and support for liberalisation of the law is growing. But this will not be possible if the movement continues to allow discredited politicians, such as Stefan NiesioÅ‚owski, who is only against tightening the ban on abortion, and other politicians from the neo-liberal parties, Nowoczesna and Civic Platform, to speak at protests.
The “no logo” policy imposed on the movement has not prevented such people from speaking; it has allowed them into the movement through the backdoor. Meanwhile, smaller, more radical organisations that are fighting for liberalisation of abortion rights are prevented from getting across their ideas and proposals for the movement.
Especially now that a number of new attacks on abortion rights are on the table, we must move onto the offensive and step up the campaign for full abortions rights.
- Build a democratic movement! For the creation of democratic committees at local, city and national level
- No compromise! For liberalisation of the law – for legal, safe and free abortions on demand
- Free and good quality health care – down with doctors hiding behind their “conscience”!
- Full access to free contraception
- Replace religion in school with compulsory sexual education
- Free IVF treatment for all who need it
- A guaranteed place for every child in free state-run creches and pre-schools