"It may be difficult to get abortions in Poland, but we have our ways," Polish feminist Krystyna Kacpura says.
May 16, 2022
By Lauren Egan and Corky Siemaszko
WARSAW, Poland — Americans fearing the worst if the Supreme Court repeals Roe v. Wade could look to the Poles for tips about how to fight for abortion rights and find ways around harsh government-imposed restrictions.
Poland, along with Malta, has the strictest abortion restrictions in Europe. It is allowed only in cases of rape, which are difficult to document, or when the life of the woman is endangered. And anyone helping a woman get the procedure for any other reason, including by prescribing pregnancy-terminating medication, could be charged with a crime — similar to what’s already happening in Texas, said Venny Ala-Siurua of Women on Web, an international online abortion service that has been helping women around the world, including thousands in Poland.
On September 22, 2021, a 30-year-old Polish woman named Izabela died of septic shock at the hospital after her unborn baby’s heart stopped beating. Her death initiated waves of protests across Poland and was seen as the direct consequence of a near total ban on abortion passed in 2020, which outlawed the termination of pregnancies even in the case of fetal defects. Under this new law, unlawful abortion could lead to up to eight years in prison. Terrified of the law and of its potential consequences, Izabela’s doctors waited too long to terminate the pregnancy despite knowing the potential risks for the mother—resulting in her death.
The case of Poland sheds light on a puzzling contemporary phenomenon. The right to abortion has recently been under attack in several countries where it was previously legalized in the late 20th century. In September 2021, the US Supreme Court refused to block legislation in Texas that would ban terminations of pregnancy after six weeks, which is after many women are even aware that they are pregnant. In Turkey, where abortion has been legal since 1983, President Erdogan’s conservative position on abortion is making it increasingly difficult for women to access abortions in public hospitals.
Restrictions are still in place, but the Catholic consensus that dominated Polish politics is over.
By Joy Neumeyer
NOVEMBER 8, 2021
In October 2020, after Poland’s constitutional court imposed a near-total ban on abortion, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets. Demonstrators across the country were united by the lightning bolt symbol of the All-Polish Women’s Strike and a simple slogan: “Fuck off.”
One year later, their campaign may seem at first glance to have reached a dead end. The court’s decision remains in effect, and Women’s Strike leaders face criminal charges for actions committed during the protests. But the movement’s apparent defeat conceals its deep impact. The Catholic consensus that dominated Polish politics since the fall of communism is over, with far-reaching effects: Public acceptance of abortion is up, support for the ruling party has fallen, and progressive activists are building new coalitions.
Meet the women across Europe who are resisting threats, both old and new, to reproductive rights in Poland.
28 September 2020
“It was the most incredible, amazing experience of my life,” the veteran women’s rights activist Mara Clarke told me. “It was totally insane. But also really wonderful. And proof that sisters and siblings can get shit done when they want to.”
In December 2019, three months before coronavirus was declared a global pandemic, a group of women from across Europe launched a bold, feminist response to Poland’s draconian anti-abortion laws: Abortion Without Borders.