Her body, her choice! #CzarnyProtest

It was 2014, and the conservative Government in Spain was about to abolish the reproduction rights that the Socialist party declared as women’s right in 2010. It was just a warning: it’s 2016 and we are still demanding to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which today prevents abortion in nearly every situation. On the 24th of September thousands of people marched through Dublin to demand access to free, safe and legal abortion in Ireland: the march was aimed at ensuring that abortion services are readily available in Ireland. But it’s not enough: on the 3rd of October thousands of women dressed in black marched in Poland, and received International solidarity, as a reaction to the conservative plan to effectively ban women from having abortions.

Indeed, terminations are currently permitted in Poland, where 87 per cent of the population identify as Catholic, only when the life of the foetus is under threat, when there is a grave threat to the health of the mother, or when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. If the proposed ban were enacted, all terminations would be criminalised and women who had abortions could be sent to prison for up to five years. Doctors found to have assisted with a termination would also be liable for prosecution and a prison sentence. Feeling discriminated against, Polish female workers across the country withdrew their labour in an effort to bring the economy to a standstill, and highlight attempts to tighten already restricted abortion laws even further. Official strikes, under the slogan #czarnyprotest – black protest, took place in over 60 different Polish cities on the 3rd of October. Women were wearing black in a sign of mourning for the feared loss of reproductive rights; they have also warned that some women will die if the proposal passes as it stands now. In an act of solidarity, a number of businesses and corporations have reportedly pledged to shut their doors as part of the strike and the nationwide strike closed down government offices, restaurants, university classes, and many other businesses. Remarkably, many men also took part in demonstrations on the streets of Warsaw, Gdańsk and elsewhere across the largely Catholic nation.

It’s 2016 but we still need to gather people in the streets to state that women rights are human rights, and reproductive rights are self-determination rights. To explain why we need to ensure that abortion is provided legally in our countries. First of all: if you prevent it, you won’t remove it. It’s useless, and women are forced to turn to illegal providers of abortion. Illegal means of course also expensive and unsafe. This is precisely the point where it comes also the class issue: wealthy people will go abroad to get what they need – safely, while poorer people will risk their lives and savings trying to get exactly the same treatment. But without the same guarantees of having a successful one. It happens the same when it comes to in vitro fertilization and other reproductive techniques that are not allowed in every country. But we’re talking about women rights, and therefore nobody believes you unless you have data to prove what you say. It is part of the mansplaining. We know it, and we do have data. In Ireland, as Labour Youth reports, at least 12 people are forced to travel to the UK to access abortion every day, permitted by Irish lawmakers to access services in a different country that they refuse to introduce in their own. For many, the option to travel is not possible. Some are unable to travel due to visa restrictions, while many others simply cannot afford to do so. People in these circumstances often resort to importing and using abortion pills, a criminal offence under current legislation. In Poland, if the draft of law will be approved and implemented, it is feared that even a woman who suffers a miscarriage could be under criminal suspicion, and that doctors might be put off conducting routine procedures on pregnant women for fear of being accused of facilitating a termination.

Reproductive rights are human rights, and any situation where a woman does not have the right to decide upon her body has to be considered discriminatory and sexist. The right-wing government in Poland provided us the latest and plainest example of how much the reproductive rights are at risk if we do not protect and promote them steadily. If nothing can be taken for granted, we are here to defend women’s rights: in Poland, as wherever else in Europe.


Elisa Gambardella, YES Feminist Network Coordinator

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