Tens of thousands of women have taken to the streets of Poland in an uprising against living in a “female hell”. The Constitutional Court has effectively banned abortion, by ruling it unconstitutional in cases of severe foetal abnormalities. These accounted for 96% of the just 1,100 abortions that took place legally in the country, last year.
With placards declaring, “I wish I could abort my government” demonstrators have come out in their tens of thousands, not just in Warsaw and major cities but in the small towns that have been bastions of the ruling PiS (Law and Justice Party) support. They have been joined by miners, farmers, LGBT protesters, and other angry groups.
If the PiS thought that an attack on abortion would act as a diversion from its inept handling of the Covid pandemic, the opposite has been the case. Defying coronavirus restrictions, the abortion protests have become a lightning rod for the immense social discontent that has accumulated against the reactionary right-wing Psi government, including over Covid.
In 2016, the government was forced by mass street protests, which inspired movements of women internationally, to back down from its attempt, using the Catholic Church, to criminalise abortion. This time, under cover of Covid, the Psi bypassed parliament and instead gone through the Constitutional Court which it had already packed with its cronies.
Even before the court ruling, Poland had one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. Only 10% of hospitals carried out legal abortions. Now, all abortion is criminalised, except in the rare case of rape, incest, or if the mother’s life is under threat. As one protester said, women are being turned into human incubators, ‘tortured’ and forced to give birth even to a dead foetus.
According to women’s organisations, every year 80-100,000 Polish women go outside of the country to have an abortion. So it will be working-class and poor women who don’t have the means to travel who will be especially ‘living in hell’.
On Wednesday, 28 October, protesters organised a nationwide women’s strike with mass street demonstrations. More protests are planned. The next step should be mass demonstrations and industrial action, up to and including a 24-hour general strike of all workers, and an escalation, if necessary to demand that the reactionary ruling be overturned; that all women have access to safe abortion, and that the economic resources be made available for healthcare, safe contraception, affordable childcare, etc. so that women have a real right to choose when and whether to have children and to do so free from poverty and religious interference.
But the movement has the potential to go much further: drawing together all those who oppose the Psi government’s attacks on women’s rights, LGBT rights, democratic and workers’ rights, and the economic effects of the Covid pandemic – laying the basis for a mass party that could fight for the interests of workers and all oppressed groups in capitalist society.