Women's Rights in Poland

The election of the Law and Justice party (PiS) is the most significant political development in Poland since 1989. The first political party to win an outright legislative majority, it has expanded state power, weakened independent institutions, and repeatedly frustrated the country’s allies. Its power and influence are perhaps most keenly felt, however, by Polish women, disproportionately affected by the party’s program of strict social conservatism.

In this project, Alex Cocotas takes a closer look at the consequences of Law and Justice’s election for Polish women—and examines the long-term forces and institutions that made them a possibility. The best known of these consequences became a rebuke to the party’s agenda, when Polish women successful blocked a proposal to completely ban abortion in October 2016. However, Poland’s already strict abortion law remains in place: abortion is already, effectively, illegal, and it is estimated that more than 100,000 Polish women annually receive illicit abortions in black market clinics, order abortifacient pills to use at home, or travel abroad to access the procedure.

Beyond abortion, Law and Justice has restricted access to some contraceptives, revoked subsidies for in vitro fertilization, rescinded funding to domestic abuse shelters, and threatened to pull out of a landmark accord on violence against women. These initiatives largely align with the policies of the Catholic Church, whose conservative wing is closely allied with the party. Activists fear that more could be on the way—a fear vindicated by recent developments.


Memory Keepers

After historic protests in 2016, has the reality of women's rights in Poland improved?