The human rights of women and children in Poland are at risk. The government is exploiting the fact that due to social distancing restrictions women are unable to protest against a barbaric legislation which was passed in its first reading in the Polish parliament (Sejm) and will now be looked at by the Commission of Health as well as the Commission of Social and Family Affairs.
On Wednesday, the Sejm debated a legislation that will restrict women’s access to healthcare, making abortion illegal in the cases of severe pregnancy complications. It will ban terminating a pregnancy in the event of severe and irreversible damage to the fetus or an incurable disease threatening its life.
This legislation will actively force women throught the visceral trauma of what it means to go through a pregnancy and give birth to a child you already mourn.
We should make clear what this ban on abortion is: forced damaged pregnancies. Childbirth itself is one of the most difficult and painful processes that a woman can voluntarily go through, and any legislation that forces a woman to give birth to a child she will lose constitutes violence that may amount to torture or a cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.
It is utmost ideological ignorance that would allow the authors of this legislation to claim such anti-female barbarism to have anything to do with the protection of life. It is an insult to all women in Poland for the Law and Justice (PiS) government to allow this motion to appear on the agenda at a time when social distancing measures prevent them from protesting in the streets.
Why is the government spending time on this legislation now instead of working tirelessly to support frontline medical staff and social workers, whose lives are endangered by shortages in PPE?
We need urgent action to ensure the health and safety of essential workers and adequate allocation of taxpayers’ money to protect businesses against bankruptcy or the government will be responsible for many more women falling into poverty.
No More Sex Ed?
To make matters worse, another legislation was put forward in the Sejm – one that would criminalize the provision of essential sexual education to young people and children on the grounds that it will prevent the “moral corruption of their character”.
Meanwhile, the bill helps pedophiles, making it easier to hide sexual abuse. It enables rape and makes room for emotional and personal anguish that comes with it. It will lead to increased numbers of STDs and unwanted pregnancies.
We should perceive the motivation behind this legislation as fundamentally homophobic and anti-women.
Regardless of whether Jarosław Kaczyński, the unofficial leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, and other PiS politicians agree or not, people who identify as homosexual or transgender are a part of our society and thus must be given the chance to enjoy the same rights to protection and representation as anyone else.
The Istanbul Convention exists to prevent violence against women. Criminalizing sexual education in schools is inherently homophobic anti-women disproportionally affecting the young.
This legislation will touch the most noble of professions, threatening criminal punishment on teachers, educators, and doctors who wish to teach young women about sex, contraception, consent, and acceptanceof themselves and their bodies.
Studies have been clear and consistent in showing that Sex Ed in schools delays or reduces sexual activity among the youth. It increases the chances of young people using contraception and builds assertiveness, teaching young women about consent.
The Polish Association of Sexuologists states it clearly: sex ed helps prevent sexual violence.
Thou Shalt Not Speak of Sex
It is obvoius that we also must protect children from pedophilia. It is estimated that 20% of Polish children have experienced sexual violence of some kind.
What can help protect them is honest and comprehensive education covering the nature of sexual violence and consent, which must be provided in schools.
Under the current law, fifteen-year-olds are allowed to have sex, but are forbidden to openly speak about it or they could face punishment, creating grounds for abuse.
Therefore, the legislation criminalizing sexual education must be rejected.
It is beyond reason to deprive young women access to sex education, whilst simultaneously proposing to increase the real-life costs of unwanted pregnancies. To deprive women of access to abortion constitutes discrimination against women because it is depriving them of a service only women need.
This barbaric attack on women’s health care must thus be rejected.
The Polish government is exploiting the pandemic outbreak to pass these dangerous laws. It is betting on women’s current reduced ability to protest. It wants to silence the collective voice of women, who are the only authority on the matters related to their bodies and choices.
It is a disgrace that Jarosław Kaczyński and other PiS politicians would decide to push such a legislation through the Sejm while women’s collective voice cannot be heard. It is a disgrace that President Andrzej Duda is announcing that he would happily sign such a legislation under these circumstances.
Allowing for such a law to be passed through the Sejm now proves the government’s total disregard for women as active citizens, voters, and persons deserving of fundamental human rights.
The bills will further restrict women’s access to abortion and make sex education a criminal offense, and as such they should be dropped immediately.
Sadly,the opposite seems to be happening: they are getting closer to becoming entrenched in the Polish law.