By Sarah Grados
On Monday, November 28th, 2016 in Warsaw, Poland, a sea of united female voices, dressed in black, chanted amidst the storm to change a controversial abortion law. They chanted,“We want doctors, not missionaries!” and carried posters reading messages such as “My Uterus, My Opinion” and “Women Just Want to Have FUN-damental Rights.” Poland has had a consistent and rigid approach to government and the rules it enforces, particularly those relating to women. Poland’s current law on abortion is already stringent, only allowing abortion in cases of rape, incest or danger to the health of women. Even more catastrophic, a new law was proposed that renders all abortion illegal with a single exception: if a mother’s health is in danger. Even worse, the proposal calls for repercussions to women who receive an abortion, requiring a minimum of five years in prison. This new law ignited a flame within the bellies of Polish women and provoked them to leave school and work, and run to the streets to fight.
What is most troubling is the fact that the proposal was prompted by a citizens’ initiative in which 400,000 signatures were collected in favor of the proposition. Although we continue to evolve in certain aspects of gender equality, apparently the life of a woman is still not her own. Justyna Pawlak, the bureau chief of Reuters for Central and Eastern Europe said, “[Women] were afraid that, at times, their health or their life might be compromised and the doctors would get to choose whose life and whose health is more important.” Interestingly, polls suggest that support for the government has dropped to its lowest levels since elections last year. This is significant as it demonstrates the frustration of the Polish people at their government for the actions they have taken and for its link to restrictions and beliefs associated with Catholicism. In response to such an extreme law, women gathered nationwide, taking to the streets in black clothing and energetically expressing their undeniable need to be the deciders of their life. Commentator and activist, Agnieszka Graff, said “The protest was bigger than anyone expected. People were astonished. Warsaw was swarming with women in black. It was amazing to feel the energy and the anger, the emotional intensity was incredible.”
The effects of millions of women away from their jobs were widespread; many government offices in various parts of the country had to shut down due to a lack of employees. This fact reveals the extent to which women are needed in the workplace and their importance to the work force. If women have the power to shut down offices due to their absence, how can they not have control over what they do with their own bodies? It seems more than paradoxical to see such an imbalance in the perceived power. It was only after the streets were flooded with protesters, only after shutting down businesses and government departments, only after pushing against the current, that women were able to change the fate that would have been forced upon them.
These women, an undeniable force of unity, succeeded in reversing the Parliament’s position and influenced the vote to reject the proposed abortion ban. It was not only a victory for women in the fight for the right to control their bodies, but a moment that planted a seed for the future of women’s rights worldwide, and to demonstrate just how powerful women are when united as one voice, in one movement, in one unbreakable wave of reasoning and logic.