Outraged protesters take to the streets with metal hangers in response to Poland’s ruling party seeking to outlaw abortion …

 

While Donald Trump suffers politically in the U.S. primary presidential nomination race for his incoherent policy on abortion, ultraconservative Ted Cruz and supposed ‘moderate’ John Kasich are quite happy to trumpet how they have restricted or sought to restrict abortion rights, punishing women by law, if not by direct legal sanction.  In Poland, the ruling party also seeks to make political capital on limiting the right of women to choose whether to continue a pregnancy or not.

The country already has some of the harshest abortion laws in Europe. It is permitted only if done at an early stage of pregnancy and if it endangers the mother’s life, or if the child will be handicapped, or in circumstances when conception originated from incest or rape.  Now the conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) want a complete ban on abortions, in line with demands from Polish Roman Catholic bishops (RC).  This would move Poland from being on a par with Northern Ireland to that of Nicaragua on reproductive rights (and also in the same orbit as Cruz).

As a result of the existing 1993 law, there are only a few hundred abortions a year, as pro-choice campaigners say undocumented ‘back-street’ abortions proliferate.  However, on Sunday the 3rd of April, a letter (leaked earlier in the week) was read in Catholic churches across the country; Polish RC bishops called for legislative action to tighten the regulations absolutely. It said: ‘The position of Catholics on this is clear and unchangeable. One needs to protect every person’s life from conception to natural death [my italics].  We ask the lawmakers and the government to initiate the [requisite] legislation’.

The PiS leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, said that, as a Catholic, he was obliged to follow the contents of the letter.  Kaczyński, although neither prime minister or president, nevertheless pulls the strings behind the scenes to direct policy and his party has unprecedented executive control, being the first in post-communist Poland to govern without a coalition partner and who also has their man as president.  Even were Cruz to be US President, he would not have this kind of leverage.

As if to prove the maxim that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely, PiS has moved against the third and fourth estates — the judiciary and media.  Simultaneously weakening the power of the Constitutional Court to reject laws and packing it with the nominees of PiS (as a double lock), the party also stripped the public broadcaster of its independence from government, to be run by an apparatchik.  To limit debate and opposition from parliamentarians attending, laws have been passed at midnight or later.  A witch hunt has also been launched that would have made Joe McCarthy purr, even to the extent of calling the preceding government ‘traitors’, raiding a NATO base because its head was selected by the outgoing government and accusing Lech Wałęsa, national hero, former President and mentor-turned-critic of Kaczyński, of being a communist informer when Wałęsa was head of the free trade union, Solidarity — needless to say, Wałęsa has denied this categorically.

The European Union, dealing with the strains and stresses of the Eurozone, as well as those coming into the Union from outside and a potential British departure, is not inclined to criticise Poland.  Jean-Claude Juncker, Commission President, has already preempted an EU investigation by saying Poland will not be censured.  That Poland has the joint fourth highest voting share in the EU also affords it protection, unlike smaller Austria which was censured for unilaterally abrogating the Schengen open borders agreement.

So when Kaczyński says he is ‘convinced that a vast majority of the caucus, or perhaps all of it, will back the proposal’, it has the ring of Vladimir Putin throwing himself at the mercy of the Russian Duma.  The early release of the letter brought thousands of pro-choice advocates on to the streets in protest, the rally culminating outside parliament in Warsaw.  Chanting ‘keep your hands off the uterus’ and ‘my body, my business’, the protesters waved wire coat hangers to symbolise how many more unlicensed, dangerous abortions there will be.  But the previous affronts to democracy also induced thousands of activists to march and PiS just ignored them.  In a country where radio shock jocks are Roman Catholic priests who have the same reach as the likes of Rush Limbaugh in America, PiS will be even more confident in blocking any opposing debate on tightening the law on abortion.