Or: A history of the Black Protest
2016 was a difficult year for women’s rights in Poland. We have one of the strictest abortion law in Europe, the so-called “abortion compromise”. It allows for the termination of pregnancy in three circumstances: (1) When the woman’s life or health is endangered by the continuation of pregnancy, (2) when the pregnancy is a result of a criminal act or (3) when the fetus is seriously malformed. However, in April 2016, anti-choice groups gathered around the Ordo Iuris Institute, proposed a bill called “Stop Abortion”. This bill would cause any termination of pregnancy entirely illegal, regardless of the circumstances, except for medical procedures performed when the life of the mother is directly threatened. Under this law, miscarriages would be investigated as suspected homicide, and women, when found guilty of terminating a pregnancy, might be sentenced to up to 5 years of imprisonment.
Total Ban vs. Save the Women
At the same time, the Save the Women Committee led by Barbara Nowacka, proposed a contrary bill, providing access to abortion till 12th week of pregnancy, knowledge-based sexual education and refund for contraception. In this difficult political situation a grassroots movement called Gals4Gals (Dziewuchy Dziewuchom) emerged as the self-organization of women via social media. Women were collecting signatures under Save the Women project, organizing protests and marches, demanding freedom of choice and progressive changes in matter of reproductive rights legislation.
In autumn 2016 both projects were addressed by the Polish Parliament, which caused a big tension in the society. Both the Catholic Church and Prime Minister were openly supporting tightening the abortion law. Finally, rejecting Save the Women Project by the Polish parliament in its first reading, and proceeding the Ordo Iuris project caused massive protests in the country, supported by the whole world.
It started with the #blackprotest (#czarnyprotest) hashtag, a social media project by Małgorzata Adamczyk from the Razem party, encouraging women and men to dress black, take a selfie and share it through social media to show the protest against tightening the abortion law. The action went viral worldwide, engaging many celebrities and public figures and Polish actress Krystyna Janda called for a countrywide strike inspired by Icelandic women. The idea of strike was supported and coordinated by Wroclaw-based group gathered around Marta Lempart.
On October 3rd Black Monday happened – over 150 cities and around 200 000 people were protesting organizing demonstrations, marches and blocking streets during working day. Women were taking day off from work, wearing black and gathering on the streets of their towns. It was a rainy day so most of them were carrying umbrellas, that became a symbol of fight for women’s rights, later adopted internationally. Almost 90% of the protests happened in the towns smaller than 50 000 citizens and in many cases they were organized by women with no experience in activism or any social engagement. Many of them were speaking publicly for the first time, organizing demonstrations with people they didn’t know before in person, only via social media.
On October 5th a group of Polish politicians – Barbara Nowacka, Wanda Nowicka and activists (also Gals4Gals) went to Strasbourg for a hearing and plenary debate on situation of women in Poland, organized by MEP Terry Reintke and European Green Party. The massive protests and international political pressure caused ruling party Law and Justice to back off and reject Stop Abortion project.
However, this was a bittersweet victory and only beginning of the battle. Since last year, ruling party openly said, that they would like to ban abortion on premise of fetal malformation. In July a prescription for emergency contraception was introduced again, even though EMEA recommends this medicine to be sold OTC. Istanbul Convention is not respected and NGOs that act to help victims of domestic violence or minority groups are deprived funding, state funding of in vitro program was stopped, and local programs are threatened. At the moment, a federation of anti-choice movements led by Kaja Godek is collecting signatures under another project tightening the abortion law (to ban abortion because fetus malformation).
This project is openly supported by the Catholic Church, that actively collects signatures during masses. As a response, Save the Women Committee 2017 proposed a new bill that alongside liberalization of abortion law introduces sexual education, contraception refunds, brings back emergency pill OTC, bans demonstrations close to the schools and hospitals. This year, October 3rd – one year after the day where Poland stood still – we took the streets again. In many cities demonstrations are planned, we are collecting signatures for Save the Women 2017 Project. We, the Polish Women thank the international community for remembrance, solidarity and support. This battle is not over yet. We are many, we are load and we will not back down!