Women’s rights are human rights. This statement might seem obvious, but considering the extensive restrictions that police the female body, it is apparent that women continue to be viewed as possessions that can -and should- be moulded, shaped and spoken on behalf of in order to fulfil varying sets of cultural and religious ideologies.
Recently, negative reactions to the proposed total abortion ban in Poland saw the cities of Warsaw, Gdansk, Wroclaw, Lodz and Krakow erupt in protest on what was dubbed as “Czarny Poniedziałek” (“Black Monday”). Over 30,000 participants gathered throughout the predominantly Catholic nation on the 3rd of October wearing black, in a stand against the proposal of a new abortion law supported by the current PiS (Law and Justice) Government. Many women also refused to attend school and work in imitation of a strike that occurred in Iceland 40 years ago. In 1975 an incredible 90% of the female population of Iceland boycotted their usual jobs (including paid employment, domestic duties and childcare), in order that the male population experience the extensive workload that burdens women on a day-to-day basis.
Less than one week after the protests in Poland, it appears that campaigners have managed to collectively steer an almighty U-turn that has not only radically changed public opinion on abortion rights there, but has made its mark internationally as women’s organisations, student groups and others worldwide stand in solidarity to support these women. It has also resulted in a wave of campaigns that call for the liberalisation of Poland’s already restrictive abortion rights.
Women are currently granted the right to terminate a pregnancy in the event of rape, incest, a threat to the mother’s health, or if the baby will be born permanently handicapped. The new proposal intends to entirely prohibit the practise, excluding only if continuing with a pregnancy would put the woman’s life in “direct” danger.
With many Polish women already travelling to Germany or Slovakia to have the process carried out illegally, it is deeply troubling to consider how these figures would rise in the event of a total ban. Making abortion illegal will not prevent its practice, but would see more women travelling abroad and seeking unsafe illegal terminations. It was also revealed that, as part of the new legislation, women would face 5 years in prison for having an abortion, doctors involved would also face jail time, and, most disturbingly, women who suffered miscarriages would be subject to “investigation”.
A violation of human rights, this proposal is just one example of how women’s bodies are controlled and monitored. The restriction of women’s free choice in what should wholeheartedly be their decision regardless of the circumstances is no new occurrence, but in this case the uniting of women under a common interest of standing up for their reproductive rights has set the wheels in motion to push the Polish authorities a small way towards liberation.
Whilst I hope it isn’t entirely necessary to detail the reasons as to why abortion should be a case for individual choice, and whilst I wholeheartedly believe that women shouldn’t ever have to justify their personal decisions to have an abortion, here is a reminder of just three reasons why banning it is an ugly restriction of human rights:
Personal autonomy is violently snatched away during and as a consequence of rape; to continue violating the rights of a woman following an incident like this is nothing short of inhumane.
What if you were in poverty, struck with the knowledge that you are expecting a child, when you already know you are without the means to look after it and give it the life it deserves? What if you were on such a low income that the only option was to seek an illegal, unsafe abortion?
Women can’t help being women:
As much as society likes to blame women for, um, being women, surely a woman has the authority and conscience to make the right decision (regarding her own body) for her and her family.
By the looks of it, the women of Poland are not giving up the fight and protests continue throughout the country, with the ruling party leader returning to the board room to further discuss the legislation.