Nearly 200 people convened in front of St. Giles Cathedral on the afternoon of Monday, 3 October, to protest an abortion bill submitted to the Polish Parliament the previous Friday.
60 protests were scheduled in cities throughout Poland along with demonstrations in ten other European capitals since the bill’s submission, according to the Krakow Post.
The crowd looked as if it was nearly equal parts men and women, and included Edinburgh residents of all ages.
Poland’s current legislation outlaws abortion except when it is the result of rape or incest, the mother’s life is in danger, or the fetus is permanently damaged or terminally ill.
The bill submitted on 31 September by Ordo Luris, a Polish legal group (PiS), would eliminate the current exceptions to the abortion ban.
Additionally, all miscarriages deemed suspicious by Parliament could be subject to investigation.
Edinburgh’s protestors held signs saying “PiS Off,” “Stop Drastic Anti-Abortion Law in Poland,” and “Nothing About Us Without Us.”
Others held signs featuring the phrase “My Body, My Choice” and paintings of bloody coat hangers.
Some protesters carried coat hangers, a symbol of the self-induced or back-alley abortions that many women experience under restrictive abortion laws.
The protest opened with a speech from Monika Oleksiak, a Polish artist who lives in Edinburgh. “We are here today because right now in Poland we already have some of the strictest abortion laws,” Oleksiak said.
She continued: “In Poland, there is big group of radical Catholics, but it is not everybody. The politicians are only thinking about those who think like them.”
Though 90 percent of Poland’s population identifies as Roman Catholic, a recent survey by the Polish Catholic Church found that in the last the ten years, the number attending Sunday mass has fallen to 39 per cent.
Polish native and Edinburgh resident, Marzaena Keminska, was involved in advertising for the protest. “Our presence is necessary to show people what is going on in Poland,” Keminska said to The Student.
“I’m a mother. Everyone has had their own experience with abortion or miscarriage, but it’s still taboo. This government, though, is totally separated, walled off from the people,” Keminska said.
Outrage over the potential miscarriage investigations was a recurring theme at Monday’s protest. Protester Urszula Kocol held a sign featuring painted handcuffs and the phrase “Miscarriage does not equal Prison.”
Kocol spoke passionate to the crowd: “This new anti-abortion law that is considered, it bans abortions if the woman is in danger, or if the fetus is disfigured, and women who have a ‘suspicious’ miscarriage could go to prison for three years.”
“This is ridiculous. I don’t care if you’re pro- or anti-abortion, this is so wrong,” Kocol said.
One of the most affecting speeches came from Anna Lewicka, who held an umbrella covered in Polish phrases as well as a painting of a coat hanger and a uterus. Lewicka began by communicating her frustration with the conservative wing of the Polish government.
“They don’t care. They don’t care after the child is born,” Lewicka said. “All these people who shout pro-life. They only shout. How many of them are adopting disabled or abandoned children?”
Lewick went on to share her personal experience with a difficult pregnancy. She was five months pregnant when her doctors informed her that her child had a life-threatening deformity.
“I had to have a birth but without the happy ending, there was just trauma” Lewick said.
“But I made that choice. It took me a week to decide. This is a huge thing for women, it is the women’s conscience that is affected. But I am here because if this law had been here when I was younger, I probably would have killed myself,” Lewick said.
Image: William Murphy