On the 22nd October, protests began in Poland to overturn the rulings of the Constitutional Tribunal, consisting mainly of judges appointed by the ruling party Law and Justice (PiS), which tightened the law on abortion by making it illegal in almost all cases. A wave of mass protests to oppose the ruling commenced the same day, and is still underway.
A strong point that has helped to mobilise massive support is that the main organiser All-Poland Women’s Strike (OSK) has previous successes in overturning the policy. The women’s rights group, founded by Marta Lempart in 2016 set out clearly defined goals, the most pressing, a total revoke of this ruling. Understanding opposing powers, in this case, a right wing conservative government and the interfering interests of the Catholic church has made this a protest against government and clergy, in many ways beyond this single ruling. OSK has appealed to a young female demographic, although there are unsuspecting supporters, notably taxi drivers and farmers who have their own grievances with the government. Influential academic institutional support, mostly male professors appealed directly to the Prime Minister for an alternative outcome. Medical groups lobbied, expressing frustration that in the height of a pandemic, this was an undue provocation. Press releases were disseminated by the Office High Commissioner for Human Rights, (OHCHR) and Amnesty International, condemning the decision, while social media feeds, used a range of hashtags to drive national and global action. #PiekloKobiet (‘Hell of women’), #AborcjaBezGranic (‘Abortion without borders’), and #WyrokNaKobiety (‘Sentence on women’) were the prominent hashtags used. International media continue to cover the news story, where messaging appears consistently supportive, although one or two US media outlets have slightly pensive headlines. The Polish protestors have lashed out at the Catholic church, with open verbal attacks on senior clergy, disruption to Mass, and intentional use of offensive language have been some of the shock tactics used. Investigative reporting shows that certain Catholic church groups have received funding from US conservatives, to maintain an anti-abortion policy in Poland. The largely decentralised protests have drawn over 430,000 protestors and over 30 countries joined in solidarity demonstrations. This is a mark of success, particularly given the risks during a pandemic. There is a need to emphasise the risk this presents to 150,000 women. (This is the estimated number of Polish women who had an abortion, abroad in 2019). The number should be reported, used in statements and messaging, and made real through storytelling. A thought provoking short film could do wonders to take this campaign to a wider global audience. Finally, engaging men who have an equal role to play in achieving gender equality and women’s rights is an important audience to consider, particularly within a social media context. It’s time to shift perception, and the thinking that this is a women’s campaign, for women’s problems.
BBC.COM, Adam Easton (Poland Abortion, Top Court bans almost all terminations) 24th October 2020; CNN.COM, Antonia Mortensen & Amy Woodyatt, (Polish women disrupt church services in protest at abortion ban) 26 October, 2020;The New York Times, Monica Pronczuk (How Poland’s new abortion law became such a flash point) 27 October, 2020; The Washington Post, Loveday Morris, (Polish demonstrators disrupt Sunday Mass as some of Europe’s tightest abortion laws get tighter) Vogue.com, Emma Specter, (Protesters are speaking out about Poland’s near total abortion ban) OHCHR, Poland has slammed door shut on legal and safe abortions; The Guardian, David Agren, (‘We have made history’: Mexico’s Oaxaca state decriminalizes abortion) circa October 2019;UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice: Poland 3rd-13th December, 2018, A/HRC/41/33/Add.2
Gazette, No. 1891. Volume 377 No.92 of Republic of South Africa Government 1996: Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act, 22 November 1996