Polish women strike to protest abortion ban, 2016

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Timing
Time Period:  
September
2016
to
October
2016
Location and Goals
Country: 
Poland
Location City/State/Province: 
Warsaw
Goals: 
For the Polish parliament to reject a restrictive abortion bill and to demonstrate the importance of women to the functioning of the state of Poland.
 

In 1993, the Polish Parliament, with the support of the Catholic Church, passed a bill known as the “abortion compromise,” which was intended to decrease abortions and increase overall birth rates in Poland. The law prohibits abortion in all cases except rape, incest, or when the pregnant person or fetus’s life is in danger.

In September of 2016, conservative anti-choice organizations Ordo Iuris and Stop Abortion proposed the “prenatal life protection law,” which would criminalize all abortions in Poland without exception, landing people who did get abortions in prison for up to five years. It would also criminalize miscarriages under “suspicious” circumstances. The Catholic Church and the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS)––specifically Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki––publicly supported the bill. On 23 September, the Polish parliament voted to send the bill to a parliamentary commission for further work despite only 14% public approval of the proposal.

Polish women swiftly took action and mobilized to stop the proposal from becoming law. The movement adopted a “no logo principle,” not using the logos of any of the various organizations that supported or created the movement in an attempt to center the work of the women themselves. In less than two weeks, various Polish women’s organizations came together to create a “national absence campaign.” They called out of work and school, joining a mass protest on 3 October known as “Black Monday,” the “black protest,” or “Czarny Protest.” The protest was inspired by the Icelandic women strike for economic and social equality in 1975. The organizers of Black Monday aimed to “show that [women’s] freedom is interconnected with the functioning of this state as such––we can paralyze its functions if we stand up united. Women are not reproductive slaves!”

In the ten days before Black Monday, activists mobilized sympathetic organizations and the general public through Facebook and much smaller protests. At many events, protestors handed out fliers and passed around a petition to block the bill. On 3 October, over 100,000 Polish women took off from work and school in a general strike, and 98,000 women gathered in the streets of towns across Poland to protest the bill. Protestors symbolically wore black to "mourn women's reproductive rights in Poland.” Many women also held up wire coat hangers to represent the “coat hanger abortion,” a dangerous way women seek abortion when it is illegal. A number of local Polish businesses and storefronts closed for the day in solidarity with the women and, in many countries across the world, specifically throughout the EU, women held solidarity marches and rallies.

In the immediate aftermath, some politicians ignored or made fun of the mobilization efforts. Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said in a radio interview, “let them have their fun… there is no such problem as a threat to women's rights.” Ultimately, however, the Polish Parliament quickly rejected the bill only three days after the protest in a vote of 352 to 58. Jarosław Gowin, the minister of science and higher education said, “[Monday's] protests had caused us to think and taught us humility.” The protesters clearly achieved their goal in rejecting the specific bill and upholding the status quo in the short term. In March of 2018, however, PiS introduced a new restrictive reproductive health bill which has resulted in a new wave of mass protests in Poland.

Research Notes
Influences: 

The Polish women were inspired by the Icelandic women strike for economic and social equality, 1975.

Sources: 
Anon. n.d. “03/10 Polish Women on Strike.” (https://web.archive.org/web/20161021000910/http://inviti.pl/ulotka_eng.pdf).

Anon. 2016. “Poland Abortion: Parliament Rejects near-Total Ban.” BBC News, October 6. Retrieved February 16, 2019. (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37573938?fbclid=IwAR1x8QglqO2GkdRY7ElCq6pA5ilrweOQFIJYdoXYIE1vO0hD4HsfmGfzBPg).

Atkins, Jacob. 2016. “Poland's Abortion Protests: What Was ‘Black Monday?” Law Street, October 13. Retrieved February 15, 2019. (https://lawstreetmedia.com/issues/world/protests-poland-convince-government-revoke-proposed-abortion-ban/).

Berendt, Joanna. 2017. “Protesters in Poland Rally Against Proposal for Total Abortion Ban.” The New York Times, October 3. Retrieved February 15, 2019. (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/04/world/europe/poland-abortion-black-monday.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share&_r=0&fbclid=IwAR0On62lEezBXgPvwZ-6YTL3fb2SofOENZ_ZQpXaS5z5nzXo5XTZwwNVMfE).

Black Protest International. 2016. “This is a…” Facebook, September 26. Retrieved February 15, 2019. (http://web.archive.org/web/20190216200239/https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1163544850381844&id=1162858547117141&__tn__=-R)

Davies, Christian. 2016. “Women to Go on Strike in Poland in Protest at Planned Abortion Law.” The Guardian, October 3. Retrieved February 16, 2019. (https://web.archive.org/web/20190225160357/https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/02/women-to-go-on-strike-in-poland-abortion-law?CMP=fb_gu&fbclid=IwAR2rU3G-I4XDnlzUXLeOcz2dUUhQREX-lzc_7typcpk0XrKXIf_vMPHFkBY).

Fenton, Siobhan. 2016. “Polish Women to Stage All-out Strike next Week.” The Independent, September 30. Retrieved February 16, 2019. (https://web.archive.org/web/20190225160519/https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/polish-women-strike-abortion-laws-restrictions-changes-economy-a7339141.html?fbclid=IwAR0zCRThtcS2DkKlTN2vLxM3CDhwUPE1Bc5PZqFv9V3xvWqkIPnhyC4aXRU).

Foy, Henry. 2016a. “Polish Women Stage Strike over Plans for Total Ban on Abortion.” Financial Times, October 3. Retrieved February 15, 2019. (https://www.ft.com/content/c6e6272a-897b-11e6-8cb7-e7ada1d123b1).

Foy, Henry. 2016b. “Poland Pulls Back from Total Abortion Ban.” Financial Times. Retrieved February 16, 2019. (https://www.ft.com/content/a3cf9548-8b0e-11e6-8aa5-f79f5696c731).

Knight, Nila. 2016. “Massive Uprising by Polish Women Just Forced Right-Wing Government to Drop Abortion Ban.” Common Dreams, October 5. Retrieved February 15, 2019. (http://web.archive.org/web/20180330012735/https://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/10/05/massive-uprising-polish-women-just-forced-right-wing-government-drop-abortion-ban).

Santora, Marc and Joanna Berendt. 2018. “Polish Women Protest Proposed Abortion Ban (Again).” The New York Times, March 23. Retrieved February 17, 2019. (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/23/world/europe/poland-abortion-women-protest.html).

Smoleń, Aleksandra. 2016. “Women to Hold Strike against Proposed Abortion Ban.” The Krakow Post, September 30. Retrieved February 16, 2019. (http://www.krakowpost.com/13523/2016/09/polish-women-strike-abortion-ban).

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Olivia Robbins 28/04/2019