People in Poland Have Proven the Power of Protest

Poland is an extremely Catholic, conservative country. It became very religious and politically conservative due to a deep distrust of left-leaning policies that developed after the country’s tough experience with communism in which the economy tanked and millions of Poles suffered. Poland’s extremely right-wing policies also extend to their strict abortion laws which only allow abortions in cases of rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, or danger to the mother’s health. However, on Thursday, October 22, 2020, the constitutional tribunal ruled that abortion in the case of fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional. The majority of abortions (about 90%) in Poland are carried out due to fetal abnormalities so this ruling amounted to an almost total ban on abortion. Immediately after the ruling passed, some hospitals in Poland began canceling pre-existing abortion appointments even though the ruling had not gone into effect yet (eventually, after intense pressure these hospitals rescheduled abortion appointments and will continue to allow abortions due to fetal abnormalities until the ruling officially goes into effect). 

Thousands of people in Poland flocked to the streets to protest this ruling. Officials hoped to dissuade people from protesting by citing Poland’s rising Coronavirus case numbers, however, this did not stop the determined protesters who made an effort to wear masks (some protests, but not all, even seemed socially distanced). Multiple nights of protests ensued in the capital, Warsaw, and there were minor clashes with riot police which led to some arrests. However, the protests were largely peaceful, and many cities around the world joined in. Social media was integral, with hundreds of people sharing why they chose to have an abortion, and why they were so thankful they were not forced into carrying a pregnancy to term that would end in stillbirth. Others shared that they wished their country allowed abortions under other circumstances and how they had to travel abroad to obtain an abortion which angers them because traveling abroad is not something everyone can afford. 

On November 3rd, 2020 Poland’s conservative government announced that they will be delaying the implementation of this ruling and they asked for “peace” as they “discuss the implementations of the ruling”. While this does not mean the ruling will be thrown out, it is promising. Poland’s increasingly conservative government would never have delayed the ruling without the push they received from the thousands of protesters online, in the streets of Poland, and across the globe. The Polish have reminded us that all democratic governments exist to serve the people and that we must hold the government accountable if they do not represent our beliefs and protect our rights. Protest is powerful, and it works.