20 Apr, 2020

Poland exploits crisis to pass barbaric laws

This op-ed was written by Monika Rosa MP, Nowoczesna Board Member, Nowoczesna President in Silesia, against proposed legislation in Poland reducing access to reproductive care and limiting sexual education opportunities for young people. Rosa is also Member of the Standing Committee of National and Ethnic Minorities and active member of non-governmental organizations such as Projekt: Polska.

The human rights of women and youth are under attack in Poland. Currently, the government is exploiting the fact that, due to social distancing restrictions, mass protests against the introduced legislation on reproductive health are not allowed, which passed its first reading in the Sejm and will now be examined by the Ministries of Health as well as Family, Labour and Social Policy.

On Wednesday, the Sejm debated this legislation, which restricts access to reproductive care and makes abortion illegal in cases of severe pregnancy complications. The legislation also bans termination of pregnancy in the event of severe and irreversible damage to the foetus, including incurable and life-threatening diseases.

This legislation will actively force parents to experience visceral trauma - what it means to go through pregnancy and give birth to a child they already mourn. We should be clear in spelling out what this ban on abortion is: forced damaged pregnancies. Childbirth itself is one of the most difficult and painful things a person can voluntarily experience, and any legislation that forces someone to give birth to a child they will lose is cruel, inhuman and degrading.

It is only utmost ideological ignorance that allows the authors of this legislation to claim such sexist barbarism to have anything to do with the protection of life. It is an insult for the government to allow the discussion of this legislation while social distancing measures prevent Polish people from protesting in the streets. Why is the government spending time on this discriminatory legislation now, instead of working tirelessly to support our 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 our essential workers and adequate allocation of taxpayer funds to protect businesses against bankruptcy, or the government will be responsible for many more people, especially women and the most vulnerable, falling into poverty. 

To make matters worse, a further piece of legislation has been put forward in the Sejm that criminalises the provision of essential sexual education for youth, on the grounds that doing so will prevent the ‘moral corruption of their character’. To the authors of this legislation, I warn that this bill enables paedophiles, making it easier to hide sexual abuse. It enables rape and the emotional and personal tragedy that comes with it. It will lead to an increase in STDs and unwanted pregnancies. We must see the motivations behind this legislation for what they truly are - fundamentally homophobic and sexist.

Regardless of whether Jarosław Kaczyński and other PiS politicians agree or not, people who identify as LGBTQ+ exist and must have equal rights to protection and representation. Furthermore, the Istanbul Convention exists to prevent violence against women. Criminalising sexual education in schools is inherently homophobic, misogynistic and will disproportionally affect youth.

This legislation will touch the most noble of professions, threatening criminal punishment for teachers, educators and doctors wishing to teach young people about sex, contraception, consent and acceptance for themselves and their bodies. Studies have been clear and consistent, showing that sex-ed in schools delays or reduces sexual activity. It increases the chances of young people using contraception and builds assertiveness, through teaching about consent. The Polish Association of Sexologists states clearly: sex-ed helps prevent sexual violence.

It is additionally in the interest of all to protect children against paedophilia. It is estimated that 20% of Polish children have experienced sexual violence of some kind. Honest and comprehensive education on the nature of sexual violence and consent is necessary to combat this problem and must be provided in schools. Under current law, fifteen-year-olds are allowed to have sex but are forbidden to openly speak about it or they could face punishment, creating a breeding ground for abuse.

This legislation criminalising sexual education must be rejected.

It is beyond reason to deprive young people of access to sex education, whilst simultaneously proposing to increase the real-life costs of unwanted pregnancies. Limiting access to abortion constitutes discrimination against women, because it is depriving them of a service many need.

This barbaric attack on the right to reproductive care must be rejected.

The Polish government is exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to pass these dangerous laws, betting on peoples’ currently reduced ability to protest. It wants to silence the collective voice of women, who are the only authority on matters related to their bodies and choices. Therefore, it is a disgrace that Jarosław Kaczyński and PiS politicians have decided to pass this legislation in the Sejm, and that President Andrzej Duda is announcing that he would happily sign such legislation.

Allowing this legislation to pass through the Sejm under the current circumstances is evidence of the government’s total disregard for women, LGBTQ+ individuals and youth as active citizens and people deserving of fundamental human rights.

These bills, that will further restrict access to abortion and make sex education a criminal offence, should be dropped immediately. However, they are instead one step closer to becoming entrenched in law.

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