This week saw a massive mobilization of women in Poland (and elsewhere) against a proposed total abortion ban in the country.  On Monday, women refused en masse to go to work or school, striking both economically and socially, in order to stop the proposal, which would have refused abortion to women even in cases of rape, incest, and threats to their life.

By the following day, the conservative government had seemingly done a total about-face, announcing that it was withdrawing its support for the measure (the bill later failed in parliament) and solemnly declaring that it had been “humbled” and “taught to think.”

Seems like a victory, right?

In its coverage of the government’s reversal, the Guardian noted the following shocking fact:

Poland already outlaws abortions, with exceptions made only for rape, incest, badly damaged foetuses or if the mother’s life is at risk. In practice, though, some doctors refuse to perform even legal abortions, citing moral objections.

In other words, women in Poland are already unable to access reproductive care, except in the most urgent of circumstances, such as when their very life is at stake… and even then.

Let’s be very clear about a tactic deployed on a regular basis by those in power: They introduce an extremely controversial proposal — something that doesn’t have a chance of passing (although if it does, all the better).  An enormous public response is mobilized.  They then withdraw the proposal.  Exhausted, exhilarated, satisfied, the protesters demobilize their response and return to their everyday lives.  The status quo remains.

If I were a member of the Polish conservative government, and I wanted to keep abortion out of the hands of Polish women, I would have done exactly what the government did this week.

This doesn’t mean that the women of Poland didn’t score a victory.  They deserve all of the credit for turning back the inhuman proposal of a full ban.  However, it does mean that we need to be aware of the difference between strategy and tactics.  Tactically, the strike worked.  Strategically, the conservative government succeeded in keeping Poland in the dark ages.

4 thoughts on “How to Effectively Ban Abortion

  1. Thanks for this piece on the most recent events in Poland. Whereas you are right to point out that the conservative government kept the “dark ages” status quo, of allowing abortion in exceptional cases, which has been consistent over the last few decades (with some exceptions when requirements were loosened up). It is worth noting that Poland is primarily (still) a homogeneous Catholic country, so there would have to be other changes that take place to change this mentality. However, what strikes me as going back to the dark ages is the status quo in the US and other countries where we are going back to the pre-Roe criminalization of women who are already forced to back alley abortions. I think that the protest was a strategic success because it led to other governmental promises of support of newborns with defects, so I would say this set a path to coming out of dark ages. I don’t accuse the conservative government of the highly sophisticated plan of keeping the status quo under the pretense of radical improvement. The trust in this government has been seriously damaged because of their treatment of the Constitutional Law. If anything the anti-abortionist propaganda was there only to divert the attention. Also, there were nearly five hundred thousand people who supported the bill and are now very disenchanted to see their government turn its back on them. It is a small step but it is a step ahead.

    1. I think these are excellent points. As for the comparison to the US — I think that shows, both, how deeply engrained religion is in this country as well, and how the attempt to control women’s bodies transcends religion.

  2. I sadly agree with this analysis. The victory in stopping the new law is not a great one, given the repressive anti abortion laws that already exist in Poland. On the other hand, thankfully there is one, the mobilization accomplished on Black Monday may have enduring long term effects. My hope against hopelessness.

  3. It’s an old tactic that’s being used in the U.S currently to great effect as well. Some have argued the Trump campaign itself is such as red herring that causes a temporary mobilization and then the status quo returns stronger than ever with a second Clinton regime. These fleeting deep politicizations many times result in a more deep-seated orthodoxy entrenching its’ control much further.

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