This Was Not a Victory, We Mustn’t Let Our Guard Down

Author: Natalia Skoczylas

Translation: Agnieszka Skowronek

Polish version: CLICK HERE

 

14463257_10207695748895249_8706285415106476359_nI was not alive during the communist era, in history lessons I laughed along with my classmates at the propaganda fed to the people by the media – the posters, the „newspeak”. And suddenly I wake up in 2016 to find that our public television paints me and my friends as shocking, the pro choice demonstration from which several sentences were taken out of context is painted as focused on insulting the First Lady (the Porozumienie Odzyskać Wybór demonstration from 9th of April this year) and lately we can observe how journalist turn her clothes to black to simulate solidarity with women.

Because it’s easier that way, keeping the people in line.

The citizens’ initiative (draft bill considered by the Parliament after gaining 100 thousand citizens’ signatures) submitted by the Stop Abortion coalition has been rejected.
There is talk of success on my friends’ facebook walls, on facebook groups created specifically for the strike, and worst of all in the international media. There’s joy, a sense of victory. But looking at the fashion in which all of this happened, this couldn’t be further from the truth. A hurriedly assembled committee, unexpected declarations from right wing MPs, issues with obtaining passes for the committee observers, the propaganda-filled media coverage and so on.

It is good, of course, that a draft bill completely banning abortion and introducing jail time for women who attempt it (or miscarry, because how will one establish whether or not the miscarriage was induced?) has been rejected. A draft bill which removes the right to terminate a pregnancy from a gang raped teen (gang rape, for instance at parties, is not that rare), a woman with an ectopic pregnancy or a woman who knows her child is already dead or will survive no more than a few seconds after birth. It should be obvious that such a draft bill won’t pass. But if it hadn’t been for the Black Protest, this draft bill would have been passed.

If it hadn’t been for the thousands of people, men and women, who took to the streets in cities both small and large, furiously and proudly displaying their disapproval of this draft bill (with certain minor changes), it would probably have been passed. What happened after the demonstration in the Warsaw Castle Square (the demonstration itself left a bad taste in the mouth) – the spontanous march to the Sejm and later a still numerous one to Teatr Polski, was an incredibly powerful experience. I felt the energy and force flowing within us, we were a team. It may sound pompous but it’s the truth. Our wombs, our streets!

It was wonderful and unifying, however…

Until abortion is made legal, it is not a success.

Why?

  1. Because despite fulfilling the required conditions (when the pregnancy is the result of a criminal act, when the health or life of the mother is at risk or when the fetus is seriously malformed), very few legal abortions are carried out. According to the recent statistics, only around 1000 of the estimated 80,000 – 200,000 abortions carried out every year in Poland are legal – the rest being backstreet abortions or abortions carried out at home (data from the Federation for Women and Family Planning). The „conscience clause” used by many of our doctors seems to be the main cause. One has to wonder how many of them really use it out of religious belief and how many simply want to escape being socially ostracized.
    What is worse, six months ago, by the verdict of the Constitutional Tribunal, doctors using the conscience clause stopped being obligated to refer their patients to another doctor who will provide the abortion. Women who are wealthier or have more opportunities to earn money will find a way, especially in larger cities, where they can remain anonymous. But in smaller cities, where everyone knows everyone, or simply when someone cannot afford pills or a „backstreet abortion”, seeking a legal termination will be the only option. And it could be someone carrying a dead fetus, someone suffering from cancer, who will not be given chemotherapy (because of the risk to the fetus) and it could be me, a person who, every day, takes medication potentially harmful to a fetus. Doesn’t matter. We are expected to die to satisfy the consciences of others. In practice, we already have a total abortion ban.
  2. Secondly, there is already talk of a  new „compromise”– one where only abortion in the case of serious malformation of the fetus would be banned. That means that women would be forced to give birth to children who would potentially survive only several seconds, hours, days. Even in cases of fetal death women would be forced to carry the pregnancy to term. ALL OF US. Because there is no choice. This issue was frequently raised in the questions of MPs after the first reading of the „Stop Abortion” and „Save the Women” draft laws, it was very popular. Besides, what compromise? With whom? A remark by MP Krystyna Pawłowicz provides an answer to those questions „the Episcopal Conference gave us a green light” to reject the draft law but „eugenic abortion” is a different matter. In Poland, therefore, we have a President, a Prime Minister, the Sejm and Senat – but what really counts is the Episcopal Conference. 
  3. Thirdly, we need to stop the narrative that an abortion is always a traumatic experience for the woman. We hear it everywhere. Of course, terminating a pregnancy can be traumatic especially if it was long awaited but the mother cannot afford a child or is at risk of dying. It can be traumatic, but it doesn’t have to be.Please, allow us to name our emotions or lack there of ourselves. Don’t patronizingly project onto us your own feelings. Every person knows best what is traumatic for them. And I know that from the point of view of many women who terminated their pregnancies, it was a relief or simply a procedure.
  4. Finally, lets stop calling the anti-abortion camp „pro-life”. A draft law that values the existence of an embryo higher than the life of a woman living and functioning within society is not „pro life”. It’s pro control of women and birth rates, pro terror and life in fear.

The rejection of the draft law by Ordo Iuris is a positive step. But merely debating it was taking a few steps back. Now we go forward. The Black Protest must go on.


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