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Polish Women Went on Strike Over Terrifying Abortion Restrictions

Here’s Why it Matters to Everyone

On Monday, thousands of Polish women, clad in black, walked off their jobs and through the streets of Warsaw to protest their government’s efforts to tighten the country’s already restrictive laws against abortion.

Workers at museums, restaurants, and government offices refused to work, and even female TV broadcasters were reportedly wearing black. Women in Poland have expanded their protest to an all-out strike, carrying signs through the streets reading, “We want doctors, not missionaries,” and “The government is not like a pregnancy—it can be terminated.” The protest was inspired by a 1975 protest for equal rights in Iceland, where women refused to do housework, or take care of their children for twenty-four hours.

Women seeking an abortion in Poland already face some of the worst laws in Europe. But right-wing groups supported by the Catholic Church want to make them even harsher—criminalizing abortion in all instances, with the only exception being fatal harm to the mother. The new conservative female prime minister supports the ban, and a petition in favor of the restrictions circulated during the summer, gathering well above the number of signatures needed to be reviewed by the country’s Parliament.

Now, women in Poland have had enough—and they’re determined to make sure their voices are heard.

“It’s extremely worrying,” says Hana Urbanska, a 24-year old women’s rights activists living in Warsaw, Poland, where Monday’s protests were the largest. “The government wants to enforce this policy, and for the first time there is no one on our side to stop them.”

Restricting abortion is only one part of the agenda for the far-right conservative movements that have been gaining power in the past few years. Though many of these parties may have gained popularity campaigning on the economy and immigration, once in power they tried to restrict rights long enjoyed by women, particularly around sexual and reproductive health.

“Poland is just one country where this is happening,” says Neil Datta, Secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development. “Rights we thought had been granted to women long ago are no longer the case. We are now having to stand up and fight for issues that we thought had been settled decades ago.”

Spain and Portugal recently saw anti-abortion legislation make headway in parliament for the first time in years. Across Eastern Europe, countries like Macedonia, Croatia, and Romania are pushing for policies such as mandatory ultrasounds and forced religious-biased counseling that discourages women from terminating pregnancies.

Sound familiar? Policies like this are already in place in many states in America, where the battle over abortion access is still raging. In the US, similar conservative movements have led to the closing of clinics across the country, and Republican nominee Donald Trump has occasionally declared support for anti-abortion efforts.

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[Photo Credit: Getty Images]
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