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Police crackdown on Warsaw women protesters

Protesters escape over fence after approximately one thousand people are kettled and contained by Polish police. Photo courtesy of Kasia Babis

by Leanne Mckenzie

Police threw tear gas into a crowd of “kettled” protesters in Warsaw on Wednesday evening. Demonstrators had come together for the fourth week running after a Constitutional Tribunal ruling on 22nd Oct further restricted Polands already repressive abortion laws.

Amnesty International have criticised Polish authorities’ “excessive use of force” which included pepper spray, arresting peaceful protesters, and “incitement of violence against protesters by public officials”.

Kasia Babis who was in “bad shape,” after being tear gassed and contained by police, was rescued by concerned Warsaw locals who passed a ladder over a nearby fence and helped her escape.

“plain clothes police went into the crowd and started dragging people out and beating them with metal tubes, people were scared …some people helped me escape through a fence because the police were still not letting people out.”

Kasia Babis speaking about being tear gassed and kettled at Polish Womens’ Strike Wed 18th Nov.

A comic artist and activist from Warsaw, Kasia describes the protests known as The Women’s Strike as a “grass roots movement” where women and men from all over Poland, are “coming together to rebel against the government and to reject the conservative values” she feels have been “force fed” to her and other Polish people.

Before the ruling, Polish law permitted abortions in only three scenarios: for fetal abnormalities, threat to a woman’s health and in the case of incest or rape. However, on Oct 22, the court ruled that abortions performed for fetal abnormalities (the overwhelming majority of legal abortions — 1,074 of the 1,100 terminations performed in 2019) violated the Polish Constitution.

Tribunal President Julia Przylebska quoted Article 38 of the Polish Constitution which “guarantees the Right to legal protection of the life of every human being” and insisted that fetal abnormality termination was “a directly forbidden form of discrimination” and legalized “eugenic practices.”

Protesters are demanding that the court reverse the ruling with Director of Amnesty International Poland, Draginja Nadazdin, urging the Polish courts to rethink saying “the assault on sexual and reproductive rights must end.”

Three weeks ago, deputy prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski took to Facebook to urge his supporters to defend Polish churches after protesters disrupted masses and vandalized churches. There is a common belief amongst protesters that the Catholic Church and its members have allied themselves closely with the conservative Law and Order party government and are therefore at least partly responsible for the new ruling.

Despite this Kasia is sure that religious women are actually taking part in the Women’s Strike and is confident that many Catholic women in Poland are “listening to their own hearts and conscience instead of what the priests are saying.”

She and a growing number of women are now calling for the liberalisation of all abortion laws in Poland saying that these protests could be a springboard to revolution:

“I think its definitely a revolution, I think this is something unprecedented. Even if somehow we could go back to those old rules, they are not enough to keep us safe and we need more. We need basic healthcare and we need rights.”

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