On reflection, we can now see that there is a greater issue present that has become bigger than abortion rights. Abortion was merely a scapegoat for the government to push a misogynistic agenda that discredited and discriminated powerful women in increasingly personal attacks. At a time when we should be embracing the end of the stigma that surrounds female sexual empowerment, the ruling PiS party has used scare tactics to enforce and pursue policy that punishes women. One of the first signs of trouble was identified back in 2017 when access to emergency contraception was drastically reduced.
Federa (Federation for Women and Family Planning) remarked that the health minister’s defence was that the usage of emergency contraceptives was being abused - perhaps the irony here being that if there was more freedom of access, the need for abortion in Poland would be drastically reduced. Furthermore, there has been wide condemnation over the decision to imminently withdraw from the Istanbul Convention; a document which commits countries who sign to adopt measures to prosecute domestic violence and other forms of abuse against women. In a country where every fifth woman falls victim to rape, this is the policy that most reveals the government’s blindness to the protections its women need. It is worth noting that the government is planning to draw up its own alternative, however the ratification of this would include an abortion and gay marriage ban in its entirety.
So what now? Poland remains as torn as ever and the probability of the situation swaying back into women’s favour seems unlikely. Poland will remain a divided country for as long as its government chooses to retain policy that is heavily deferential to the Catholic church, whilst its youth search for opportunity abroad.
On this International Women’s Day, we must take a minute to acknowledge the very real consequences these rulings have had. Women have died because of the abortion legislation and the worst fears of many have been tragically realized. Most recently, a lady named only as ‘Agnieska T’ died as a result of sepsis after one of her two foetuses died but doctors delayed in terminating the pregnancy. Her death occurred almost exactly on the first anniversary of the 2021 ruling that made aborting pregnancies due to foetal abnormalities illegal.
Her sad story is not the first and neither, I fear, will it be the last. However, all is not lost. We continue to see the extraordinary work that individuals like Marta Lempart do to provide hope for women in Poland. They continue to advocate despite the heavy-handed threats and intimidation they encounter. Whilst we must lobby the EU Commission to enact its mechanism which ties EU funding to EU values, let us today especially honour the women who are echoing the voices of the women who came before them from the humble textile factories of Lodz. Women of Poland have shown their strength in enforcing reform before -now it is time to hear them roar again.