The fight over abortion rights in Poland is continuing with renewed energy.
Saturday saw demonstrations throughout the country. They will have taken place in over 60 towns and cities by the end of the weekend.
The protests began on 22 October after the constitutional tribunal (TK) banned abortions in the case of severely deformed foetuses. The TK has been packed with pro-government politicians to ensure it carries out the wishes of Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
He leads the ultra-conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) and is the most powerful politician in Poland.
Outrage sparked the original protests. Saturday’s demonstrations were a continuation of these but were fuelled further by anger following police brutality on 18 November.
On that day thugs in plain clothes attacked the crowd as the march was ending. At first people thought they were fascists who had on previous occasions attacked the women’s marches.
But these were police. They used tear gas spray, pulled out telescopic steel batons and started lashing out at the demonstrators. It turned out that among them were agents of the Bureau of Antiterrorist Operations.
Even a woman Left MP was teargassed and the deputy speaker, a Left MP, was roughed up outside parliament by police. On Saturday again another woman MP was teargassed.
PiS leader Kaczynski faces challenges both within his own camp and from the extreme right. He wants to show his own toughness and so has put pressure on police to behave much more harshly towards the protesters.
As often happens with mass protests if the government reacts leniently this can encourage more people to come out onto the streets. But if it resorts to brutality this can also provoke outrage—and more people come onto the streets.
This is what happened on Saturday. The demonstration marked the 102nd anniversary of women winning the right to vote in Poland.
In the capital, Warsaw, the roundabout in the city centre that is named after Roman Dmowski—twentieth-century Poland’s most famous antisemitic politician—was changed to Women’s Rights roundabout. New signs covered up the old ones.
Several main roads were blocked as police tried to stop the many thousands of protesters. The demonstration lasted for four hours.
For more than five weeks the women’s protests have changed the face of Poland.
A poll conducted in the second week of November found that 70 percent of the population supports the demonstrations. Among these 13 percent of people have taken part in the women’s protests.
This means millions have been on at least one protest.
A further 57 percent support the demonstrations but haven’t joined them. Among 18-24 year olds an astonishing 29 percent say they have been on the protests. And many protesters are younger than 18 years old.
The marches have achieved further significant successes.
They have struck a blow against the right—both the Catholic nationalists of PiS and the fascists. At a time when hundreds of thousands of people have been demonstrating, the fascist-organised Independence Day march on 11 November was the smallest for ten years.
PiS is barely holding its lead in the opinion polls.
The main opposition party, the neoliberal Civic Platform which formed the previous government has not made much headway. Neither has the social democratic Left coalition.
Instead, the chief beneficiary in party political polling is Poland 2050 led by a celebrity liberal Catholic TV presenter who supports the women’s demonstrations.
He is seen as an outsider who can bring change because he is not yet in parliament. Poland 2050 has reached 20 percent in a recent poll.
But the most important political change has been the belief in the necessity of mass protests.
The movement has created a new generation of fearless, young, mainly women, protesters. Or rather they have created themselves. They block main roads and ignore police threats. And they come back again and again.
The protests have further undermined the reactionary Catholic church hierarchy. Church attendances were eroding even before the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Now criticism of the church is louder than ever before.
And the constitutional tribunal’s abortion ban has not been published by the prime minister yet even though the deadline for this was 2 November. So it is not yet in force legally.
This shows the government’s fear of the protesters.
The tribunal decision initially meant that even more hospitals retreated from providing any abortion services and even some pre-natal examinations.
But the delay in publishing the verdict resulting from the mass demonstrations has encouraged some hospitals to say they are willing to perform abortions where there are serious foetal defects.
Some hospitals have taken up an in-between position. They are providing the still formally legal abortions without publicising the fact.
Despite the fact that thousands of those involved in the protests must be trade union members the best reactions of the biggest unions have been to provide only verbal support.
But when given the chance workers will go further.
Rafal, a tram driver on Saturday’s demonstration in Warsaw, said, “Most of us are putting up messages on the electronic display at the front of our trams. They say things like ‘Women we are with you’.”
Health workers are showing pictures of themselves on social media. Covid-masked and uniformed, they display the lightning flash symbol of the protesters.
The protests and the police reaction to them have made many more people question the role of the police in society and realise how strong we can be when we fight together. One of the main slogans is “Solidarity is our weapon”.
People’s horizons are expanding. These are great times for arguing the need for revolutionary politics.
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