Polish women plan demonstrations on Sunday and Monday to protest a government proposal that would further restrict Poland’s abortion law, already among the most restrictive in Europe. Polish law currently bans abortion, with exceptions only in cases of incest, rape, a severely damaged fetus, and when the mother’s life is endangered.
The controversial proposal, put forward by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the governing Law and Justice Party, would eliminate the exception that allows abortion in cases where the fetus is badly damaged and has no chance of survival. Although he holds no government position, Kaczynski, as governing party leader, is the most powerful political figure in Poland.
Kaczynski has claimed that it’s necessary to prohibit abortion in cases where the damaged fetus has no chance of survival because it’s important “that even cases of very difficult pregnancies, when the child is certain to die, very deformed, still end up a birth, so that the child can be baptized, buried and have a name.”
Kaczynski, however, does accept that pregnancies can be terminated when the mother’s health or life is at stake.
A bill that would have banned all abortions, with no exceptions, was defeated earlier this month after tens of thousands of women clad in black protested it in cities throughout Poland Oct. 2-3.
Some observers believe those massive protests played a significant role in the defeat of that repressive bill.
“The mass protests by women surprised the Polish episcopate, and it did not fight to block rescinding the bill,” said Artur Sporniak, who writes about the Polish church for Tygodnik Powszechny, a liberal Catholic weekly.
Repeated calls from this reporter to the Polish Episcopal Conference in Warsaw went unanswered. The editor of a conservative Catholic publication refused to comment for this story.
Marta Lempart, 37, who is organizing the nationwide protests against Kaczynski’s proposal, said Polish women are fed up with the government.
“This government still thinks it can do things to women that they want,” Lempart, an attorney, said in a phone interview from her home in Wroclaw. “That’s not going to happen anymore. We won’t let them get away with it.”
Gosia Nowicka, 33, who works in the American studies department at Warsaw University, will take off Monday to join the protesters.
“Even if these protests are ignored, I will be able to look at myself 10 to 20 years from now and say I did the right thing at that moment,” Nowicka said in a telephone interview.
According to Krystyna Kacpura, director of the Federation for Women and Family Planning, 100,000 Polish women go abroad each year to have abortions because of Poland’s restrictive law. There is no official data.
“I know many of the protest leaders and they are devout Catholics who go to church,” said Adam Szostkiewicz*, who writes about religion for Polityka, a respected liberal weekly. “They are protesting because of the way they have been treated by the Roman Catholic church and the government. It’s fantastic to see all of these young and old women coming together, despite their political or religious differences.”
Sporniak lamented the minor role that women play in shaping church policy, despite their large attendance and participation in church activities. “For example,” he said, “Despite huge numbers of nuns in Poland, their voice is not heard in the church. Men govern and decide about almost everything.”
Dominican Fr. Pawel Guzynski, who is preparing for his doctorate in the city of Lodz, accuses the church of hypocrisy for not including women.
“The church tolerates groups of fascistic nationalists because they declare their loyalty to Catholicism,” he said, “And at the same time, we stigmatize protesting women.”
[Donald Snyder is a freelance writer who worked at NBC for 27 years as a news producer. He retired from the network in 2003.]
* An earlier version of this story misspelled Adam Szostkiewicz's last name.