Global Independent Analytics
Bojan Stanislawski
Bojan Stanislawski

Location: Poland

Specialization: Eastern Europe, Labor movement

The Catholic Jihad and the Coat Hanger Revolt in Poland

Law & Justice, the ruling fundamentalist right-wing in Poland has just brought another outrage and mobilized a whole new cluster of society against the government. This time, they will have to back down.

The new Polish government, pretty much since its very beginning, is ruling from one outrage to another. In the beginning, it was a matter of political autonomy and a complete wipe-out of the cadreship of their predecessors in the constitutional court and the state media. Despite the huge problems Kaczyński and Co. have, with this method created for themselves with their unprecedented march through the state institutions, it seems like they not only reject any reconsiderations, but they have gotten carried away.

The fact is that the recently proposed complete and total ban on abortions in Poland is not the government's idea. The topic blew up two weeks ago when the Polish Episcopal Conference, which acts as the central organ of the Catholic Church in Poland, published parts of its cyclic "letter to the faithful" that was to be read out in all Catholic churches in Poland on the coming Sunday, during the traditional celebrations. So, it was actually the top archbishops who took the question up.

The reaction was immediate. Anger sparked out not only in the right-wing media who sides with the enemies of the current administration and not only in the internet social platforms but throughout the entire society. For quite some time, however, the new ruling class has not realized that not only did it take a step way too far, but also that this step was take in the worse possible direction. It took the PM Beata Szydło a few days to figure out that the mobilizations she is observing are not just another trick of the political rivals in the model of the Democracy Defense Committees, but something way too spontaneous, too massive and too dynamic to ignore. So, now she has yet another problem. Unfortunately for her and Kaczyński, this time, it will be really tough if they try to push it through.

One should ask the obvious question: Why have the ruling politicians actually let this happen? The problem is however that Polish politics are only partially animated by politicians. The episcopate, since the very beginning of the transition, has played a very significant role in the entire political process competently orchestrating cyclic hysterical campaigns regarding topics directly or indirectly related to people's gender and sexuality.

In this respect, the current proposal from the side of the church is nothing new. As long ago as in 1988, when the bishops had also realized where things are going and figured that they can surpass the falling state apparatus, they launched the first wave of lamenting against abortion, which back then used to be a regular medical procedure. Once the major changes in the economy took place, the church stepped up its campaign and turned it into a manic rage against which the volatile and philistine government of Hanna Suchocka bowed to in 1993. The final result was a bill effectively banning abortions unless the pregnancy was a result of rape, the fetus being utterly malformed or the health safety of the mother being endangered.

Not once during the `90 and since then have the bishops tried to close these last three doors. What we can observe now is yet another attempt. The top church officials obviously thought their moment has come. With the numerous concessions and substantial money injections the new government has granted this institution and its agents (like the fanatically religious “Radio Maryja”) they simply came to think they can strike again and even if not finish this business off, then at least make a general check-up as to how far things can be pushed forward. The bishops' letter that ignited the people was written on a litmus paper.

Their experiment ended in a disaster. The society had previously swallowed the manipulations around the constitutional court and the state media, it did its best to ignore the spectacle of just as pathetic as aggressive Russophobic nonsense regarding Smolensk, it even preferred not to remember the laughable challenges declared by the current foreign minister to halt the crusade of cyclists, vegetarians and racial-mixture advocates in Poland. However, the attempt to legally regulate wombs and vaginas, to give the executive power the privilege to exercise police control over the organisms of women and to engage prosecutors in the case of every single miscarriage is simply too much. Even for the conservative Poles.

The first demonstrations were called for the day the infamous already letter was going to be read out in the churches (3rd of April). The attendance was massive in all major cities in Poland. The central squares were flooded with people, mostly women, in all ages.

Many were initially suspicious of the initiative thinking this could be the Democracy Defense Committee (KOD) trying to wear yet another mask, but it quickly turned out that KOD is not only absent from these demonstrations, but is ostentatiously uninterested in them. The dynamism of the manifestations and their obvious spontaneity combined with the complete lack of support from any of the leading political parties finally led even Kaczyński and Szydło to react. The latter, a few days later, despite being in Szczecin (north-west Poland) where she was discussing regional issues, started her press conference with a clear statement that she might be supporting such an initiative personally, but in her capacity as Prime Minister she felt obliged to inform the audience that there are no proposals or suggestions as to changing the current state of affairs regarding abortions in the agenda of any of her ministers.

In a sense, Szydło managed to kind of clear herself from the accusations of barbarizing the law and push off the entire responsibility to the church, but it is all not so simple. The church, no matter how unofficial this could be, overwhelmingly supports Law & Justice and it is more than clear to anybody that it expects substantial gifts in return, not only material ones, and even in this respect not only what they have collected until now.

The bishops cannot do everything themselves in the political arena and for many initiatives they use various stooges in a form of non-governmental organizations. Yes, they have learned from the liberals. One such agent is a profoundly fundamentalist NGO called Ordo Iuris. It is them who have drafted the bill. And the activist job of collecting signatures behind it was given to another circle of Catholic jihadists - Fundacja PRO.

The actual endorsement of this legislation draft by the Polish episcopate just made this all public. The conference’s widely disseminated notice on the new law explained that it supports it because the 5th Commandment specifically states “Thou shalt not kill” and thus life must be protected from the moment the sperm fertilizes the egg. Then, when we get down to the wording of the bill it appears quite simple - “Every human being has the inherent right to life from the moment of conception” reads its first article. “The life and health of the child from conception remain under the protection of the law" states another paragraph. Also, it introduces the term of "prenatal murder", which must be one of the most obscure and murky inventions in the modern history of legal systems.

The law would lead to prison terms of up to three years for causing "the death" of "a child" once conceived. The same would apply to anyone who assists with the termination or encourages it. This means no more and no less than the fact that rape survivors and children will be forced to give birth, just as women who may simply die due to their pregnancy. Any miscarriage will be submitted to "prosecution control" and might be punished with a sentence, as this innovative form of "murder" without factual birth will enter the criminal code.

Alas, this is not the end of the story. The state will have the right to overcome person’s fundamental civic rights to protect "unborn children" - access to healthcare will be limited. It is all about prenatal examinations which are connected, statistically speaking, to a minimum risk of miscarriage. These procedures will be banned and doctors performing them will be criminally charged. And, on top of the cherry on top here is that all forms of pharmaceutical postcoital contraception (like morning-after pills) will be officially categorized as abortion tools and therefore made illegal.

Also, it tells us something about the ethics of Catholic integrity in Poland. Let us not forget that under this new law, women who discover early that their "unborn child" had zero chance of surviving the pregnancy or the birth, will be forced to live with the horrific misery of carrying the fetus for months until the inevitable, eventual conclusion occurs.

Not being able to digest this the Polish massively marched, marking the greatest display of anger on Poland’s streets since the formation of the Law & Justice government that can be openly called the coat hanger revolt.

The fact that Szydło and Kaczyński have made yet another striking mistake from the point of view of maintaining power cannot be a surprise to anyone anymore. What however may be intriguing is that the ultra-conservative hawks in the Polish church and among the new ruling elite are not putting forward anything new, but are trying to complete a process that was started in the early `90 by the Polish liberals. No matter how paradoxical it might appear at first glance - this is the case.

The first political faction to provide the church's most fervent radicals a political platform was no one from today's Law & Justice. It was the so-called Democratic Union which, in the person of its PM in 1992 and 1993, not only banned abortions (almost completely) but also signed the concordat and introduced religion classes in the educational system. It is exactly the same party that is the queen bee's cell and the lair of Donald Tusk (former prime minister, now chairman of the European Council, and oh so solicitous about democracy in Poland), Leszek Balcerowicz (the first post-89 financial minister who introduced the most extreme neo-liberal economics in Eastern Europe), and the matrix of the medial empire of "Gazeta Wyborcza” - for a long time the biggest Polish daily paper which is now the leading MSM platform opposing the current government. Now it is, of course, trying to grasp the wave of social unrest rapidly growing against the new offensive of Catholic fundamentalism.

This is the state of affairs in Poland regarding the question of women and civic rights - those responsible to the greatest extent for the ruthless clericalization of the society and who's political actions paved the way for the Catholic jihadists to the very center of the public space are now preparing to fight the results to combat their political enemies on the back of the victims of both parties. Post-modern dialectics, you see.

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