The fight for abortion rights in Poland has exploded onto the streets.
Up to 20,000 protested outside the parliament in Warsaw on Saturday in the biggest demonstration against a proposed law that would further restrict abortion rights.
Tens of thousands are taking part in a “women’s strike” today, Monday. People who could take a day off work poured onto the streets in towns and cities across Poland and thousands of school students also took part.
The majority of protesters are young women mostly dressed in black—the colour of the protest movement.
Chants of “We will stop the fanatics”, “Disgrace! MPs are building a hell for women” and “We want doctors, not missionaries” rang out. They even chanted, “Revolution is a woman”.
People brought hundreds of placards and banners with slogans including, “My body, my choice”, “Fuck off fanatics”, “Girls will overthrow the government”.
The trade union have been cautious until now, but the OPZZ trade union federation backed the protests today. This followed the ZNP teachers’ union, Poland’s largest single union, coming out in support.
These unions are not officially striking, but have encouraged their members to join street protests today. This formal union backing is very important for the pro-choice movement—and has to be built on.
The new left party Razem (Together) has also played a major part in the pro-choice movement. In September it launched the “black protest”, with demonstrations and pickets in many towns and cities.
Formed just a few months before the elections in last October, Razem managed to win 3.62% with 550,000 votes.
Razem is mainly a party young people and has focusing on street activity rather than passively waiting for the next election. Workers’ Democracy, the Socialist Workers Party’s sister organisation, works with Razem in a number of campaigns.
This week’s protests come after months of demonstration across Poland.
The current movement is much bigger than anything we have seen around abortion rights in more than 20 years.
But why now? The answer is simple. There was outrage when a new bill banning all abortions was announced six months ago.
Poland, along with Malta and Ireland, already has the most restrictive abortion law in Europe.
But the proposed law would make abortion illegal even if the foetus was damaged, the pregnancy was a result of rape or if the woman's life was endangered. Women and their doctors would also face prison
No wonder that on Saturday and Monday people were determined and furious.
Although the proposed law is supposedly a “citizens' bill” not introduced by MPS, the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party immediately supported it. It is first party since 1989 that has ruled with an outright majority.
The Catholic conservative PiS is deeply right wing. Its politicians regard Polish fascists as honest patriots and have turned a blind eye to the recent increase in racist attacks, bolstering the fascist right.
In September it blocked an alternative bill, which would have legalised abortion on demand up to the 12 week, from the parliamentary committee stage.
This further enraged campaigners because the ruling party had promised it would allow all citizens' bills to be debated in this way.
A poll taken before Saturday’s protest shows that 15 percent want to take part in the campaign, another 35 percent support it and only 14 percent oppose it.
As I write the pro-choice movement is escalating fast—and is changing people’s minds in the wider population.