ABSTRACT

A quick glance at the ‘Abortion Laws’ map illuminates a tension within the geography of women’s global sexual rights, with Poland and Ireland being the only two European countries in which the access to abortion is signi¿cantly limited. Legal in Poland since 1956, abortion became a highly debated political issue after the fall of state-socialism. The right to legal abortion for social reasons was banned in 1993 and ultimately deemed unconstitutional in 1997 (Nowicka and Tajak 2000). Currently, termination of pregnancy is permitted by law only if it presents a threat to the woman’s life, if the pre-natal examination shows severe damage to the foetus, or if it is the result of a crime (Nowicka and Tajak 2000). With some 365 cases of legal abortion yearly and over 80,000 illegal procedures performed in the ‘abortion underground’ over the last 15 years, Polish women’s ‘pro-choice’ organizations have been pointing to the ways in which the existing law puts women’s lives and health at risk. Many argue that it is the well-being of women, rather than political af¿liation, that should underline one’s stand on

abortion rights. Some recalled the words of Simone Veil, who argued in 1974 on behalf of the right-wing French government:

Women’s organizations’ continuous efforts to change the abortion law have met with resistance from the Catholic Church authorities, medical industry, state of¿cials and women involved in religious groups. Recently, however, two cases – of Alicja Tysiąc’s and of 14-year-old Agata – illuminated the signi¿cant change in public opinion and the of¿cial approach to the question of abortion. The focus of the public debate shifted from the perception of the current abortion law as a ‘positive compromise’ between the state and Church, towards seeing this law as harming individual and collective women’s rights to well-being. This chapter traces the efforts of women’s organizations, activists and scholars to intervene in the hegemonic anti-choice discourses and draws attention to the ways in which existing abortion law violates rights and undermines the well-being of speci¿c groups of women, such as women with disabilities and girls. We draw on the extensive literature and press coverage of the abortion debate in Poland and utilize data collected in two qualitative studies on women’s activism in Poland1 to argue that the current shift in the general perception of the abortion question in Poland is accompanied and to some extent caused by the transformation of the feminist discourses on reproductive rights: its transnationalization and diversi¿cation. On one hand the struggle for the recognition of women’s rights to well-being has gone global as women activists started to utilize the supranational political spaces to argue their positions (as is highlighted in Part III of this volume). On the other, feminist scholars and activists have locally made an attempt to cooperate with state of¿cials and to explore various possibilities of arguing for women’s reproductive freedom – from individualistic to social responsibility approaches. These efforts intersect with the attempts to broaden the reproductive rights discourse. Current debates around the individual and social aspects of women’s reproductive freedom span the rights of mothers, workers and employers, probing the question of the well-being, agency and subjectivity of various groups of women and illuminating

how hierarchies based on gender intersect with those of class, age and physical ability to impact women’s capability of well-being.