Black Umbrellas in Poland: Standing Up for Women’s Rights

By Justyna Borusinska, Poland


Justyna at the Black Protest, October 3, 2017

The current abortion law in Poland is already one of the most restrictive in the world, allowing for pregnancy to be terminated in only three cases: when the life of the mother is in danger; when pregnancy results from incest or rape; and when the fetus is severely and untreatably damaged. However, even in these cases the law doesn’t function well, since doctors – under political pressure – often refuse to perform an abortion. Officially, there are 1,000 to 2,000 legal abortions annually in Poland (population of 38 million), while the number of illegal ones or those executed abroad is estimated at 200,000.

The rightist government in Poland intends to carry out its commitments to the Catholic Church for political support. Recently, the Ministry of Health has broadcast a public campaign with the catchphrase “multiply yourselves like rabbits” (sic!). It sounds like a joke, but it isn’t. I’ve read many ironic comments to this campaign online, such as “multiply yourselves like rabbits, work hard like horses, and vote like foolish sheep.”


Justyna collecting signatures

In September 2017, the Catholic Church – through one of its foundations – submitted to the Parliament a modified version of the total-abortion ban, which would provide for a 3-year jail sentence for having an abortion abroad and for any anyone providing other help (such as financial support or providing women information on abortion clinics abroad). This law would be the cruelest in Europe and in the civilized world. In many ways, the position of women in Poland is starting to resemble the one portrayed in the movie The Handmaid’s Tale, adapted from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, where the job of a Handmaid is to bear the children of the man to whom she is assigned.

Various women’s and civil rights organizations decided to cooperate and collect signatures against the proposed bill. A committee called “Save Women” was created, which collected over 400,000 signatures for less restrictive laws. An alternative bill was put forth by the civil society, which, apart from legal abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy, demands access to the morning-after pill without prescription, sexual education in schools, subsidies for contraception, and clarification of rules for doctors and pharmacists who are currently allowed to refuse their services because of religious objections.

On the first anniversary of last October’s massive women’s demonstrations, another Black Protest was organized. Although in Warsaw the number of participants was lower than last year, the action took place in about 100 Polish towns. The atmosphere in Warsaw was very heart-warming; the demonstration was attended by the Iranian 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, who stressed that women worldwide should support each other as we are fighting for the same goals.

Given the political situation and the power imbalance in the Polish Parliament (Catholic-populist majority), I am not optimistic.  However, women’s power is underestimated and the situation can change dynamically. The encouragement we get from abroad is crucial.  Recently, I was impressed by how strong this influence is. One of my American Unitarian friends posted a #metoo story on Facebook. Two days later in Poland, media celebrities were already joining the movement. It felt like one person had rolled down the first stone, causing a world-wide avalanche.  The success of the #MeToo Movement promises hope for favorable changes in Poland. Our black umbrellas haven’t been folded up yet! Keep your umbrellas ready for action!

Greetings from Poland!  Justyna Borusinska  #MeToo

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