By CHLOE CAMPBELL-HAMILTON
In response to Poland’s newest abortion laws, thousands have taken to the streets to protest against the new restrictions enforced by the right-wing Law and Justice Party. Recently, the top court in Poland ruled that abortions due to foetal congenital defects are unconstitutional, prompting mass outrage over what is viewed as an overarching ban on abortion. Is the government playing politics with the rights of women yet again? It appears so. As the separation between Church and State grows thin in Poland, chaos and resentment continues to grow and points to a deep schism in the heart of Polish society.
2020 is firmly set to become the year of fear, with women across Poland growing increasingly concerned about their rights, freedoms and liberties in the country they call home. Poland already possessed some of the tightest and most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, previously only allowing abortion in cases of rape or incest, foetal deformity or if the mother’s life was at risk. Tribunal president Julia Przyłębska stated that allowing abortions for foetal abnormalities legalised “eugenic practices” and violates the right to life. However, Polish families suffer from very little psychological and financial support after the birth of a disabled child. Out of 1,100 abortions legally performed in Poland last year, 1,074 cited the foetal abnormalities as the reason for abortion. Due to the high percentage of abortions performed under this pretence, it comes as no surprise that many in Poland perceive the latest ruling as an effective ban on abortion.
But how has the Handmaid’s Tale 2.0 come to life in Poland? The ruling Law and Justice Party, led by Jarosław Kaczyński, has long appealed to traditional values and presents itself as the defender of moral, Catholic beliefs. Kaczyński has increasingly felt the pressure of the Catholic Church, which has successfully influenced the Polish government since the fall of communism in the 1980s. As a result of intense pressure from the church, Kaczyński has changed tactics in order to tighten abortion laws in the country. In a move condemned by EU bodies and various democratic states, Kaczyński has reduced the power of judiciary, giving the President effective power to remove and appoint judiciary members as and when he wishes. The newest laws on abortion therefore cannot be appealed, as judges can no longer question judicial appointments or decisions made by the President. Known as the ‘muzzle law’, Kaczyński has effectively silenced democratic process and legal opposition. The power of the Catholic Church is reigning havoc upon Polish society and is largely unopposed in government. Ultimately, it remains a dangerous force of power for many who disagree with its teachings.
As a result of the new law, protestors have disrupted masses, defaced Catholic statues and have packed out the streets in order to express outrage at the tightening of laws. A protest in Warsaw alone drew 100,000 people. Protests of this scale have not been seen in the country since the solidarity movement and the collapse of the communist government in the 1980s. Poland, a historically staunchly Catholic country, now faces sheer turmoil. The significance of Catholics going against the right-wing government and disrupting masses across the country cannot be understated. The statue of Pope John Paul II stands doused in red paint, a once unthinkable action for Catholics in Poland. The case of abortion remains a complex one and a subject which not all Catholics unanimously agree on. This particularly extends to interference in the lives of non-Catholics and respect to religious difference in society. The case in Poland represents the dangers of heavy religious interference within national governance, as democratic due diligence and the right to free choice is violated.
Despite the turbulence of the Covid-19 pandemic, Kaczyński is bowing to the influence of the Catholic Church and pushing his right-wing agenda upon the Polish population. The virus has brought serious economic strife upon Poland, making it largely easy for the Law and Justice party to mobilise right-wing support for new laws and appeal to populist sentiment. Kaczysńki’s social media has encouraged conservative supporters to ‘defend Poland, defend Patriotism’ and ‘to defend Polish churches’. Counter-demonstrators have thrown fireworks at peaceful protestors and threaten many who speak out against the government. As conservative prosecutors threaten legal action, deeming protests ‘irresponsible’ in the time of the pandemic; conflict continues to rage from both sides of the debate.
Polish women, men and families across the country rightly should be outraged. As history has shown, the mixing of religion and state does not produce democratic values and largely violates the rights of the vulnerable. The opposing arguments of the abortion debate are well-known to many, but to limit law by way of reducing legal and judicial power represents a clear violation of democratic justice and a clear infringement on the rights of both women and choice. Removal of abortion does not stop abortions from happening, but rather makes abortion unsafe, as dangerous and often fatal methods become the only option. Polish women already largely turn to neighbouring countries for easier access to abortion, and this is likely to increase as the new laws take shape. However, this does not remove the atmosphere of resentment, fear and desperation that holds a majority of the Polish population in its grip.
As the country enters a new phase of right-wing control, support for those impacted in Poland has never been more critical in the modern era. Poland deserves choice, not terror.
Image - Flickr (One Eyed Haggard)