The Polish Abortion protests in a Nutshell

I have the idea that some might want to know what’s going on with the abortion thing in Poland.

Quick and dirty rundown

Abortion was legal in the communist period but not common for a number of reasons, some of which were religious. The thing is, though, contrary to old stereotypes most Polish people aren’t very religious. In communist times support of the Roman Catholic church was as political as it was religious and after 1989 people wanted to church to go back to being a church and not a major political player. But the church (which had been an important source of resistance against the communist government) tried to flex its muscles and overplayed its hand (which began a gradual but very real decline in support of the church that is not slowing).

One of the things it accomplished was mostly outlaw abortion except in certain conditions in 1993 and later healthcare workers were given the option of not participating in abortions. Over the years, although no one liked the situation almost everyone had learned to live with it although that involved a lot of… not paying close attention. There were clinics (real clinics) that unofficially offered abortions and the border with the Czech Republic was open and no one asked questions.

Activist judges – Polish conservative style

A small group of people however kept the issue in the news and in parliament through a series of citizen initiatives which had enough support to make parliament look at the issue but not nearly enough support to justify parliament actually doing anything.

And then came the activist judges. Some who wanted a total ban on abortion at some point looked at the US where laws without enough popular support to prevail at the polls are turned into law by the judicial branch.

“We could do that too!!!” they said (that is not an actual quote).

The ruling government had been packing the Polish supreme court (known as the Constitutional Tribunal) with compliant judges who would not challenge them (nb Poland has a Civil Law system which is pretty different from the Common Law tradition of most English speaking countries so it’s not exactly the same thing but… close enough).

So recently the Constitutional Tribunal looked at the sections of abortion law allowing abortion in the case of unviable fetuses and declared that it was in violation of the constitution. The Polish constitution is another whole bucket of worms but that’s not for today. The main thing to realize is that Polish legal language tends to be imprecise and ambiguous (this is a cultural feature and not due to the language itself) so it’s probably possible to read almost anything into a document that’s long enough (and the Polish constitution is over 60 pages long).

One misstep too many

That’s when the shit hit the fan. The PiS government had been making a series of missteps from proposed animal rights legislation that alienated the countryside to declaring that covid was overcome (just before the second wave began for real) and the government had been wasting time in an internal power struggle. This was one straw too much and completely alienated almost all younger voters and most highly educated voters.

Protests began and have been going on every day since. While some covid restrictions have been introduced the protestors are not paying attention. One surprising aspect is that in some places there have also been protests in the countryside.

“Jarek! The only pussy that you can make decisions for is named Andrzej.”

(Jarek – Jarosław Kaczyński, president of PiS, Andrzej – the president of Poland known for doing anything Kaczyński tells him to.

The protests have been almost entirely peaceful despite a few rhetorical…. excesses (see picture above). The president of the governing PiS party made a video that was painfully out of tune with society defending the tribunal decision and calling on party members to ‘defend’ churches and Poland.

And so it goes…

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