POLAND – Fighting drastic anti-choice banners

Anti-choice organisations in Poland are becoming more and more visible in the public sphere with drastic images of dismembered fetuses to distort the truth about abortion. The Right to Life Foundation has been presenting its manipulative exhibition since 2005, but it was not until the elections in 2015 that they extended their scope of action. The Right to Life Foundation and the Life and Family Foundation were given a green light by the authorities to misinform the public and frighten vulnerable people. Bloody posters, trucks and billboards commonly pop up in front of hospitals, schools and kindergartens in many cities and towns all over Poland.

The Federation for Women and Family Planning has taken the following countermeasures:

  • Debunking myths conveyed in the posters, elaborating on the realities of abortion.
  • Promoting draft offence notifications – it is against the law to commit certain offences, and we think these drastic images are in breach of two articles in the Code of Petty Offences (Art. 51 and Art. 141). These include causing depravation, making indecent announcement, or using indecent words. The notification of an offence can be drafted and used against billboards, trucks and pickets. Citizens can either call the police on site and use legal arguments specified in the drafts or they can document the event with a photo, enclose it with the filled-in form and send these to the local police department. Complaints can also be sent to the Commissioner for Children’s Rights, examples are available on our website.
  • Appealing to local authorities about the damage to the quality of life of local residents. The Federation initiated a Facebook campaign that made it easier for individuals to appeal to their mayors and departments so as to encourage them to deal with the problem of city residents being terrorised with these brutal images. We have posted a draft letter and e-mail addresses of the local departments responsible. The letter uses legal arguments and scientific data pointing to the devastating effects of the images on children and vulnerable groups such as women in pregnancy, after miscarriages or abortions.

In reaction to this campaign, the Department of Education in the Warsaw town hall elaborated legal solutions in cases of anti-abortion content exhibited near schools. The guidelines were forwarded to the mayors of Warsaw districts, who were supposed to send them to educational institutions in order to spread information on how to protect pupils from shocking images. The Security and Crisis Management Department in Warsaw town hall referred our petition to a public prosecutor’s office with “a kind request to evaluate the presented content considering the possibility of committing a crime or offence”.

  • Lawyers from our Legal Assistance Team prepare represent in court citizens who have filed offence notifications. As a friend of the court, the Federation prepares legal arguments and expertise in form of the “amicus curiae briefs” for the court.

Polish youth are also involved in action against anti-abortion propaganda. Secondary school students have repeatedly covered the posters on anti-abortion vans with mocking slogans, e.g. “Smoking kills” (instead of “Abortion kills”) or “School is apolitical”. They have also gathered signatures on a petition to the Department of Education asking them to protect schools from drastic images. Furthermore, they started a petition to outlaw the Right to Life Foundation.

Fighting drastic images requires creativity and perseverance. Warsaw hospital, known to provide legal abortions, sued anti-abortion activists for defamation. Then it modified the statute related to parking so that any social action in a parking lot now requires the consent of the hospital’s management. This means that anti-choicers could not park close to the hospitals. Instead they decided to park on nearby pavements. After numerous appeals and offence notifications from passers-by and patients, the mayor of Bielany Warsaw district took action and changed the traffic rules. As a result, new road signs appeared in the area and the anti-abortion van could be towed away by municipal guards.

We invite you to exchange ideas for best practices and share the experiences of your local organisation in the battle against bloody anti-abortion banners. Please send us your lessons learnt via e-mail to: federacja@federa.org.pl. With your consent, we will post descriptions of your action online, so as to inform and inspire others facing similar challenges.

SOURCE: Federation for Women and Family Planning, Poland