At the beginning of January, two “Citizens’ Bills” on abortion rights were submitted to the Polish parliament. On the one side, reactionaries want a ban on abortion even when the foetus is malformed, while, on the other, the movement Ratujmy Kobiety (Save Women) demands the right of abortion on request for up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Nowadays, legislation on abortion in Poland is one of the most restrictive in Europe after Ireland and Malta. Abortion is legal only when the pregnancy is the result of rape, when the foetus is malformed or when the health of the woman is in danger.
In 2016, an attempt for a total ban of abortion rights was met with widespread resistance, which culminated in a "women's strike" with up to 120 000 demonstrators in the streets of Polish cities. It involved new layers who entered the struggle for the first time, such as female high school students. The conservatives had not expected the scale of this movement which forced them to retreat.
As in 2016, the parliament has voted to discuss the bill restricting abortion and has rejected the pro-choice proposal at first reading. The traditional liberal opposition (Civic Platform and Nowoczesna) played a big role in rejecting the draft law, as many MPs abstained, did not vote or even voted against it. They are not ready to take a clear stand.
Meanwhile, a majority of their supporters are in favour of a more liberal abortion law. Many of their voters, who were never interested in this question, became convinced by the pro-choice arguments over the last two years and were surprised to discover that their MPs are not.
The committee Ratujmy Kobiety and their supporters spent months collecting enough signatures for the bill proposing abortion on request to be discussed in parliament, only for their efforts to be suppressed at once by the so-called opposition. This is seen as a betrayal by the layer of the movement that still had illusions in those parties.
Ironically, part of the conservative majority from Law and Justice (PiS) voted in favour of discussing this bill. The politicians of the PiS claim to support the idea of banning abortion even when the foetus is impaired. However, their de facto leader, Jarosław Kaczynski, hoped that the parallel discussion on both bills would avoid a frontal confrontation with the women’s movement. After the recent cabinet reshuffle, they hoped for a period of stability in the mid-term. Moreover, according to the polls, only 28% of PiS voters are in favour of further restrictions on abortion rights, while 26% are for more liberal legislation. Now, PiS is under pressure from the socially and economically powerful Church to take steps towards implementing the anti-abortion bill.
As is often the case, politicians of different trends of the capitalist establishment are merely using the reproductive rights in their political manoeuvrings, notwithstanding their own opinions, whatever they are, and mostly the lives of millions of women.
Mass movement needed
Alternatywa Socjalistyczna, the CWI in Poland, supported the collection of signatures for Ratujmy Kobiety, while arguing that you can’t expect to win the right to abortion on request by the parliamentary route alone. Signature collection gives an opportunity to discuss in the street and convince bigger layers on abortion rights and to show the extent of support. In 2016, the Women’s Strike made the conservatives retreat, but did not go as far as demanding the right to abortion on request. We can win the right to decide for ourselves and for our own bodies only with a massive movement going onto the offensive against the reactionary attacks.
All over Poland this year, there have been actions organised by the left party Razem and demonstrations called by Strajk Kobiet. In their speeches in Krakow, Strajk Kobiet (the organisers of the women’s strike) called the liberal MPs who voted against abortion rights “traitors”, and thanked those who voted for the bill, calling for a vote for pro-choice candidates of any party in the next elections. This makes them out of step with the movement, which has learned the necessity of independence from the established capitalist parties.
Alternatywa Socjalistyczna demands full reproductive rights (free abortion and contraception as well as in-vitro fertilisation on demand, sex education worthy of its name in schools) linked with demands that would really allow women to choose to have a child or not, like sufficient public childcare facilities and nursery schools and also massive recruitment in public services (which desperately need it) to secure a job for everyone.
Those demands could be the basis of a common struggle of the women’s movement and the trade unions. The largest trade union federation - OPZZ - supported the women's strike in 2016 and expressed their outrage at the recent infamous vote in parliament. However, no concrete steps towards building the movement were taken by the union leadership. We call for the workers’ organisations to take an active role in the women’s struggle.
At the moment, the leadership of the women’s movement is self-appointed and no democratic control over its demands and tactics is exercised. This leads to a situation where no way forward is offered to the thousands mobilised on the streets. Also, the leadership's political zigzags over relations with bourgeois parties distance them from the broader layers of radicalised activists. In Krakow, it led to pressure from below forcing the leadership to withdraw their participation in local initiatives organised jointly with parties who support the status quo .
We call for the organisation of committees in workplaces, universities, schools and local communities that could broaden and organise the struggle, but that could also democratically decide on the demands and the strategy of the movement.
In a society where pregnancies and births are considered an individual problem to be dealt with on your own, we will never be able to decide about our own bodies, to choose to have children or not, and to be sure to give them a decent life.
The older generation of women still remember the time when abortion was legal and children’s welfare was provided by the state. In 1956, among workers' struggles for better living standards and political power for the working class against the bureaucracy, a right to abortion was won. In the early ‘90s, the new capitalist state needed the Church to back up its rule, and in 1993 suppressed this right as part of its concession to the Catholic hierarchy, while 70% of the Polish people supported the right to abortion on request.
Over the last 25 years, under-developed Polish capitalism has not been able (and has never tried) to provide sufficient childcare, pre-schools, hospitals, housing… But instead it has suppressed women’s rights to abortion and limited access to contraception. The struggle for reproductive rights has to be combined with industrial struggles and the fight for a socialist society.