February in Central Europe: the return of protests to Poland3 min read
February editorial. Poland is going through a new wave of protests as the highly controversial law on abortion has taken effect. The law, which is a near-total ban on abortion, does not have widespread support. It prompted massive protests in October when the Constitutional Court found that an abortion in case of foetal abnormalities is not in line with the Constitution. Subsequently, the law was delayed until the end of January. The constitutional court ruling was officially published and endorsed after the court provided a written justification of its verdict. The conservative government is supporting this decision.
Despite the coronavirus restrictions and sub-zero temperatures, the protesters gathered once again to express their outrage. Some of the Women’s Strike movement leaders wore green scarfs, referring to the symbol of Argentina women movement, which was recently successful in their campaign to legalise abortion. The protesters are supported by different opposition politicians such as Rafał Trzaskowski, the mayor of Warsaw.
Scrolling through different social networks, apart from the ubiquitous lightning as a symbol of support, we can find a mass of harsh reactions from the opposition. Borys Budka accused the government of using this law to cover up the pandemic’s mishandling and the vaccination plan. Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz also called the government to save the economy rather than fighting ideological wars.
It is unclear why the government decided to bring the ruling into legal force at this exact moment. Several analysts agree with Mr Budka, arguing that the general discontent with the government may rise in the following months due to the pandemic measures and slow vaccination rollout. Thus, the timing is seen as a cover-up of those topics or hope that the movement will lose its momentum before other problems intensify. However, the polls show that the overwhelming majority of Poles oppose this law, so even without issues snowballing, this decision may pose a risk to the ruling Law and Justice party. However, the next parliamentary election is planned for 2023.
Different European officials have been criticising Poland for eroding democracy and the rule of law in the country, and the European Parliament also denounced the ruling. The European or international institutions are currently the only possible place of appeal.
The actions of the Polish authorities are a significant step back. Polish women will be forced to either seek clandestine abortion or travel abroad. Writing this text from my hometown in eastern Bohemia, just an hour drive from the Polish border, makes this issue feel more pressing and personal. As Hilary Clinton famously said, women rights are human rights, and human rights are women rights. The Polish government just took a step further away from this ideal.