• Emilia Placek, PR Specialist at Unleash Today

October 22, 2020 - a day of shame for Poland

Having been born in the early 90’s in Cracow (Poland) I have witnessed many social-economic changes that took place in this post-comunist country over time. Since joining the European Union in 2004, our economy has boosted, we’ve received a number of benefits, and Poles themselves have become free to study and work in wealthier EU countries as well as travel all around Europe (Personally, I had a chance to participate in student exchange programs, do an internship, and work in 5 European countries). But most importantly, it’s not just the Polish economy that has changed - it's also the country's citizens. I observed that Poles were becoming more open-minded, and progressive… Unfortunately, I'm shocked and speechless as it turns out that in 2020 Polish women have to fight for our own health, safety and dignity again.

On the 22nd of October, Catholic religious fundamentalists from the Polish government, through the Constitutional Tribunal, changed the law to one that will force pregnant women in Poland to bear genetically deformed fetuses. Poland's abortion laws were already among the strictest in Europe, but the Constitutional Tribunal's ruling will mean an almost total ban. From now on, during an examination of a pregnant woman, if the doctor finds that the child is brainless, for instance, that woman will not be able to perform an abortion in Poland. She will be forced to carry an irreversibly damaged fetus throughout her pregnancy, then give birth and watch that horribly deformed baby die. If the baby survives, she will have to raise him/her without practically any financial, nor psychological help from the government. It is inconceivable what parents must feel when they find out about any fetal dysfunction, and how difficult it is to make any decision. Sad to say, from now on they will have no choice.

Not only do we have a new ban on abortion, but also very little is done to prevent unwanted pregnancies, not to mention that Poland is one of the least developed countries in the European Union when it comes to access of contraception. To make matters worse, anti-abortion circles are already announcing further demands that will take away our remaining rights (abortion in case of rape). The question then arises - how could such a thing happen in a democratic European country in the 21st century? Polish women have been deprived of a fundamental right - the right to choose, the right to decide for ourselves!

In 2016 around 100,000 people, mostly women, protested to block an attempt to tighten the law, but this time the ruling party wickedly used the pandemic to enforce the law. What kind of government takes advantage of such a hard time to deprive women of their basic, human rights? (in October we had more than 10 thousand confirmed COVID cases daily in Poland, whilst in November this number increased to more than 25 thousand cases daily). The representatives of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights took the floor on this matter: “The so-called ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal constitutes an unprecedented attack on women's rights, family rights and individual freedoms from inhuman and degrading treatment."

I regret to say that the situation in Poland is getting worse and worse... and it is not only regarding the decision of the Constitutional Tribunal. The ruling powers in the Polish Parliament lean to the right and contain the majority of the conservative, Catholic political groups. Parliament is not free of people who, if not officially homophobic, have an unfriendly attitude to the subject of tolerance of certain minorities. Even the president of Poland during his campaign event dared to say that the ‘LGBT ideology’ is worse than communism, and public television, a means of government propaganda, spreads false information. As a result, more and more young, and talented people are considering moving out of Poland. I wish one day Poland will follow the example of changes in society from Spain, a conservative and Catholic country which today has some of the most liberal laws concerning gay rights in all of Europe.

Polish society has never been more divided (in the recent elections the aforementioned president won against the opposition representative 51% : 49%), there is a positive side of this situation, though. This is the moment of an amazing mobilization of an open-minded and more tolerant part of Poland. Since Thursday, the 22nd of October women associations have been organizing massive demonstrations in all of the bigger Polish cities. Tens of thousands of people decided to express their opposition to the violations of women's fundamental rights, even though one day after presenting the Tribunal's judgment, new COVID restrictions have been imposed limiting public gatherings to 5 people. Many lawyers are offering free help to people stopped by the police during demonstrations. Moreover, car/bike protests were organized for those who were afraid to take part in public gatherings. Additionally, there are petitions that can be signed online (https://amnesty.org.pl/akcje/dostep-do-bezpiecznej-i-legalnej-aborcji-w-polsce-zagrozony/

https://dzialaj.akcjademokracja.pl/campaigns/aborcja), and people are massively expressing their indignation via social media, including inspiring women: Martyna Wojciechowska (former editor in chief of National Geographic Poland, host of travel TV series "Woman at the End of the World"), Olga Tokarczuk (Nobel Prize winner) and Anja Rubik (Top model and activist).

We - Polish women - have the right to decide about ourselves and our bodies, and this law cannot be violated in the name of religious fundamentalism. We won’t accept introducing such decisions without discussions and consultations in the democratic way, and we won't stop fighting for our rights! I wish that one day my country will become a society where everyone is respected, regardless of gender, faith (or lack of it), sexual orientation or skin color, then I will finally be able to say that I am proud to be Polish. Today, I can only say - Poland, shame on you!