POLAND – A press conference and a scramble to table more bills on abortion that allow at least some abortions, but with what hope of passage?

Photo: Press conference 12 February 2021

On 12 February 2021, Women’s Strike held another press conference with three speakers who describe how they have been criminally charged with a range of illegal actions and misdemeanours – all of which threaten freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of science, freedom of the media and much more. With activists continuing to be detained and harassed, it is a threat to their lives and families. The speakers say “It’s a time to react.”

Marta Lempart, one of the leaders of the Polish Women’s Strike was charged with criminal felonies at the district prosecutor’s office in Warsaw on 11 February, alongside other protesters. The charges included insulting a police officer and “causing an epidemiological threat” for organising protests during the coronavirus pandemic. Under Polish law, a person can face from six months to eight years of imprisonment for causing an epidemiological threat. She was also charged with praising the vandalism of churches and the “malicious obstruction” of religious services after supportive comments in a radio interview about protesters who had spray-painted church facades and disrupted mass during their protests. Lempart described the charges as an intensification of political pressure on her movement. Although many protesters have been charged in past weeks with misdemeanors for participating in the protests, in almost all of the cases the courts have rejected the charges.

Although politicians in the European Union have been expressing concern about the erosion of democratic norms in Poland, they are not able to change much. Unexpectedly, the Associated Press reported that the US State Department said it was watching the situation in this “allied NATO country” very closely. “Promoting, advocating and defending freedom of speech, the right to peaceful protest and judicial independence: these are critical to every democracy,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington. “We are committed to strengthening our partnership with Poland and advancing the administration’s commitment to supporting democratic institutions, human rights and the rule of law. The charges today are part and parcel of a constricting space for civil society in Poland, so we do have broader concerns, including the proposed media tax (aimed at weakening independent media) that has been unveiled recently.”

Last week we reported that the Lewica Party has a “rescue bill” on abortion that they will table, and now members of other opposition parties are also discussing possible bills. Some individual members of parties in the Civic Coalition (KO), Poland’s main opposition grouping, are in favour of abortion on request, for example. One example they are considering is a bill allowing abortion on request up to 12 weeks of pregnancy – following consultations with a doctor and a psychologist (therefore not really on request). The Greens and the Polish Initiative party have said they will back this bill if/when it comes into the Sejm (lower house). However, opinion is divided among the opposition, and the caucus leadership has yet to discuss and agree what to do.

“We agree that Polish women must feel safe and that the existing grounds should be restored. We are discussing the fourth ground: “the right to choose in a difficult situation under certain conditions” – said the Deputy Speaker of the Sejm, Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, on 13 February. She heads the team working on the position of the Civic Platform on abortion, and says they are close to agreement. When asked about the details, however, although she said that “abortion should be an independent decision of the woman”, the woman needed to know what it was she was going to decide upon. So she should talk to her doctor, and another doctor, to have full knowledge of what it was doing for her. Plus the opportunity to talk to a psychologist, for it to be a firm decision, not forced by her family or loved ones as sometimes happens. So that she would know that “if she is in a difficult situation, the state will help her”.

But then, after spelling out all these controls on the woman, Kidawa-Błońska added: “I do not believe that in this Sejm, with this balance of power, it will be possible to introduce sexual education, contraception and solutions supporting women”. In her opinion, “the ruling coalition can only lead to an even more severe restriction of the law than already exists”.

SOURCES: Associated Press News, by Vanessa Gera, Matt Lee, 12 February 2021 ; Polsat News, 13 February 2021 ; Polsat News, 9 February 2021 ; The First News, 15 February 2021