The Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning

Before I arrived in Europe for my study abroad program, I intended to do my independent research project on pro-choice activism in Europe.  However, my understanding of pro-choice activism had been limited to an American context.  My experiences with this type of activism taught me about raising awareness, rallying, signing petitions, etc.  In the United States, abortion is legal on demand during the first and second trimesters; nevertheless, attempts are constantly being made to restrict access.   There are numerous national organizations, along with many smaller groups and individuals, that fight every day to make sure that women have the right to choose abortion.  Because this is the situation that I am used to, I assumed that this was the norm in other countries where abortion was legal, specifically countries in Western Europe  After arriving in Europe, making contact with feminist organizations, and learning more about the legal status of abortion, I soon realized that pro-choice activism in Europe was not what I was expecting.  In the European context (specifically in the countries that we visited: Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and Turkey), pro-choice activism was mostly happening in countries where access to abortion was severely restricted by law. For my project, I found that most of my research needed to come from my experiences in Poland.

As part of our program, we had the opportunity to spend an afternoon at the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning. We were lectured by Wanda Nowicka, the organization’s executive director, and then had time for discussion.  Since 1992, the Federation has been working to liberalize Polish laws on abortion and family planning.  Since the regulation of abortion in 1993, the Federation has made three attempts to liberalize the law.

In 1994, legislation was proposed which would legalize abortion with “social motivation”, but this was vetoed by the president.  Two years later, in 1996, a law was proposed which liberalized the abortion law of 1993.  This new legislation made abortion legal for women “in hard life conditions or in difficult personal situation” until the twelfth week of pregnancy.  However, this law was challenged in 1997 and repealed in 1998.  The Polish government justified this by saying that abortion is unconstitutional because human life, at every stage, needs to be protected.

In 2003, the Polish Parliament became very conservative, which meant that restricting abortion became part of the political agenda.  It was also in this year that the Federation invited Women on Waves to come to Poland.  Although this campaign was met with great opposition from fundamentalist groups and protestors at the shore, Polish women were still able to utilize the service.  The media became extremely interested in this campaign and the coverage was surprisingly mostly positive.  Following this, public support for abortion increased by ten percent.  In light of these events, a draft law was submitted to the Polish government which would liberalize the status of abortion.  However, this law was never discussed; the Polish government said they did not want to create controversy as they were about to become a member of the European Union.  Regardless, bringing Women on Waves to Poland was a great way for the Federation to raise awareness about the status of abortion in Poland and influence the dominant attitude towards women’s sexual health.

Although the law has not been liberalized, the Federation is glad that the law has not been made more restrictive.  In 2006, there was an attempt to completely ban abortion; although the vote was close, they did not achieve the 2/3 requirement which is needed to change the Constitution.

Aside from challenging restrictive legislation, the Federation also does advocacy and community education.  They operate a hotline which gives advice about anything ranging from safe sex to gynecological services. The Federation is also affiliated with a youth group, Ponton. Ponton provides “sexual education and counseling for teenagers on issues of puberty, contraception and reproductive health.”  They do this by street teaming in Warsaw, visiting local schools, and answering questions which are submitted online, via text message, and on their hotline.

The Federation has created a safe place in the public sphere for women to share their personal stories and advocate for change.  In 2001 and 2004, the Federation organized tribunals where women spoke about how the ban on abortion affected their lives.  For example, these women discussed how difficult it was to obtain contraception and/or unbiased, medically accurate information about sexual and reproductive health.

Although the legal status of abortion in Poland has not improved, the situation would be much worse without the help of the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Day 11- Women’s Activism in Europe « Feminist Activism

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