Reportage. Squares filled across the country against a draconian abortion law put up by fundamentalist Catholic groups.

Polish protesters fill squares nationwide against abortion bill

The pouring rain did not deter the protesters. A huge expanse of umbrellas covered Adam Mickiewic square. Traffic was blocked on roads, and trams were diverted to ensure the continuous influx of people.

The determination to participate in the demonstration was evident. You could read it on the faces of the crowds dressed in black, the color of mourning, because the first to die (if this law is approved) would be the rights of Polish women. Under the umbrellas, you can see the faces of grandmothers, daughters and grandchildren.

Three generations of women are united today in the struggle and indignation against an anachronistic and meaningless law. And next to them are the husbands, companions and friends, because today’s demonstration in Poland is not only a demonstration in defense of women’s rights, but above all, a battle of cultures. This was repeated in the speeches of the speakers on the stage and the chants of the protesters.

We spoke with Magdalena Bilinska, a 46 year old translator who, in perfect Italian, explained the reasons why she decided to join the strike and attend the event. “Personally, I am against abortion. I am Catholic and I grew up in a Catholic family, but that does not prevent me from opposing this bill. Poland is a secular state, and I do not want it to turn into a confessional state. Besides, what sense does it make to criminalize the choice of a woman who wants to terminate her pregnancy? Those who can afford it go abroad to have an abortion; those who don’t are likely to die under the knife of the midwives.”

According to Ministry of Health data, each year about 1,000 legal abortions are practiced in Poland. The current law (one of the most restrictive in the world) allows the termination of pregnancy only in cases of serious malformation of the fetus, rape, incest and in cases of life-threatening risks to the mother. The new bill eliminates the first three exceptions and also introduces the penalty of imprisonment (up to five years) for those who would violate the rules. An estimated 150,000 to 190,000 illegal and foreign abortions are performed on Polish women every year.

Images from other Polish cities are circulating through smartphone apps among the protesters. In Warsaw, the central Castle Square is full to capacity. In Krakow, Gdansk, Wroclaw, tens or hundreds of thousands, perhaps 1 million, people filled the squares of large and small towns scattered throughout Poland. The images of manifestations in London, Paris and Berlin are also posted on social media, where there are large expatriate Polish communities.

In recent days, there were many questions about the success of the protest. How many would cross their arms to take to the streets and say no to the stop abortion law? Furthermore, would Polish women be able to paralyze the country like the Icelandic women who inspired them did on Oct. 24, 1975? The fact is that in the last two weeks the number of mobilized women has grown exponentially.

The movement against the law includes not only the feminist associations and the opposition parties but also unexpected public figures, like Marta Kaczynska, the 36-year old daughter of Lech Kaczynski, the Polish president who died in the 2010 Smolensk tragedy, who considers the bill inhumane.

The anti-abortion crusade of the Polish government threatens to turn into a boomerang. On the one hand, the ultra-conservative party of Prime Minister Beata Szydlo has to pay duty to the Catholic fundamentalists who voted en masse in the last election. On the other hand, this hard position is likely to alienate the vote of women for the next electoral events. Not to mention the international repercussions if the bill were to pass. And the government is embarrassed, as recently seen when Szydlo was asked about the controversial legislative proposal by a journalist and declined to comment.

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