A Letter From Poland

czarny-protest-800x445I don’t normally run guest posts, but it may be the perfect time to start. The below is a letter from Poland. The author wishes to remain anonymous but her words should be read by every woman, because together we ARE everywoman. 

Think this couldn’t happen in the U.S.? Think again. We’re just one or two Supreme Court Justices aways. 

A Letter from Poland

Poland is a modern country. OK, it’s a bit ragged around the edges. It was trampled flat in World War Two and then stifled for 40+ years by Communism, after all. Still, it has big buildings, fast trains, and one of the faster-growing economies in the world. Women are a big part of both the economy and government, as in any other modern country.

But, like the present-day U.S., Poland has people who want to make it “great again.” Enough of those people–barely enough–showed up to the polls last year to put a right-wing party into power with about 37 percent of the vote. This party is called “Law and Justice,” and the Polish acronym for it is (amusingly) PiS.

The acronym is about all that is funny about PiS. The party is anti-immigrant, Euro-skeptic, and extremely socially conservative/reactionary. This is a part of Polish culture: the country is about 90 percent Catholic, and not the most socially progressive place to begin with. But many on the Polish political right actually consider the Vatican to be too liberal. Let that sink in for a minute.

As you might expect, Poland already had one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. Abortion is only permitted in the cases of rape or incest, or in which the life of the mother is at risk. Practically speaking, most women who require abortions go to the nearby Czech Republic or Germany for the procedure. However, the current law is supported by about 70 percent of the population. They are Catholic, after all.

But this already harsh law is not enough for some. Recently, a new law was proposed by petition from two Catholic anti-choice groups. It is supported by PiS, which, after all, owes a debt to conservative Catholics from the election. This new legislation would criminalize ALL abortions, performed for ANY reason. Doctors, and anyone who assists them, could face five years in prison for performing abortions. Women who have abortions could face the same sentence.

Furthermore, under this law, abortions can be criminally investigated. So, even natural miscarriages could lead to a trial for both the mother and the doctor who may have helped her during her ordeal. Doctors have expressed concern that they might not be able to perform even routine prenatal procedures for fear of being accused of performing an abortion should the patient miscarry.

Women could and will die under this new law, because their health is not considered sufficient reason to end a pregnancy at any stage.

At its most sinister, this law could essentially enable men to force women to have their babies. Because even rape would not be sufficient reason to terminate a pregnancy.

If you are thinking this is a barbaric and medieval law, you would be right. If you are thinking this is the tail wagging the dog: an extremely conservative church effectively governing a democratic country, you’d be right about that, too. Many Polish women (and men) would agree with you.

Yesterday, Polish women made it clear that they are having none of it. They organized a nationwide “Black Protest.” Women in cities all over the country held a general strike, staying home from work. Many businesses and even local government offices supported them by shutting down or closing early so that women could attend protests in the afternoon.

Those who couldn’t strike or attend protests wore black to show their support, and blanketed social media with photos of themselves in black and the #czarnyprotest hashtag. All over the world, from New Zealand to Kenya, women did the same, and even held protests of their own in support of Polish women.

Millions of women in Poland participated in one way or another, many, many thousands of them in Warsaw. It was a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Plac Zamkowy in Warsaw yesterday. Photo from Newsweek.

I live most of my life in Poland in an English-language bubble. I’ve tried to learn the language, but it’s just impenetrable. I have very few Polish friends. Though I have huge respect for this country and what it has been through and achieved, as a politically liberal, religiously agnostic, American, I don’t feel like I have much in common with Polish culture. I am a fish out of water.

But I am a woman. I feel this barbaric law in my bones. Though it will never affect me personally, it pisses me off to no end. And yesterday, Polish women made me proud to be one of the sisterhood. They organized the shit out this thing. Daughters, mothers, and grandmothers showed up in the cold October rain to say “not on our watch!” They were awesome. I hope and pray that they succeed in pushing back this patriarchal dumpster fire of a law.

When the right-wing nut jobs get into power, owing their souls to religious extremists, they come for the women first. Doesn’t matter what country, doesn’t matter which religion. You think Bible-thumping Ted Cruz wouldn’t love to pass a law like this one? You think Donald Trump would care enough to stop it? Because of his notable respect for women? Because the Republican party has such a great track record of standing up to its religious right-wing? Good luck with that.

It’s worth mentioning that Trump currently has more popular support in the U.S. than PiS did in the last Polish election. That support bizarrely includes the vast majority of religiously conservative Republicans. Or maybe not so strange: they know who really wags the tail in the Republican party.

I am sure Polish women didn’t think that there were enough fanatics in their country to pass such a ridiculous law, either. But now they are fighting for control over their own bodies, and in some cases, for their lives.

American women, pay attention. Don’t take anything for granted. Hold the line. Vote. And say a prayer for our Polish sisters!

6 Comments Add yours

  1. aviets says:

    Oh. My. God. Thank you so much for sharing this essay. I wish I had known – I definitely would have joined the protest from here and gotten the info out there…though it’s never too late to spread the word.

    Truly, this is a frightening tale of what our future could well look like here. I don’t think many Americans are aware of how bad it could easily get.

    The terrifying power of white, male privilege. The terrifying power of “religion” (I believe it’s more aptly identified as fanaticism) in government.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      It’s one of those ones that have been on my radar, but I didn’t realize the extent until recently. How can any country that calls itself civilized argue that the life of a woman is worth less than the life of a fetus, or even just a cluster of cells? What about an ectopic pregnancy? How could any trained medical professional ignore the life of a dying woman? (And that’s not even delving into the fact that a woman should always have complete control OVER HER OWN BODY). I’m watching with interest. And I stand in full support of my Polish sisters.


  2. aviets says:

    Follow-up: First thing I saw when I clicked Facebook after reading this post was an NPR article highlighting the protest. I shared it immediately..


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Good. The scary thing is that people always think they are immune. This party got in with 37% of the vote. That is NOTHING. We’re a SCOTUS nomination or two away. That’s it.


  3. Elyse says:

    I thank you for posting this — although I did know about this. WTF is going on in the world? EVERYWHERE?


    1. Dina Honour says:

      I don’t know. It’s like we are going backward, but like 300 years backward. it doesn’t make any sense.


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