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Meet the women and men taking on the Polish government over abortion

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Meet the women and men taking on the Polish government over abortion

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Women and men across Poland are organising a guerilla resistance to the Polish government's attempts to further restrict access to abortion.

Farmers, teachers, CEOs and architects are among those moonlighting as abortion activists when their day jobs are over, preparing to rally people to the streets for mass protests.

They spend their time planning demonstrations, making protest materials, hosting debates and generating support on social media, with people active at all times to ensure that they are ready for any sudden developments.

“We might have to organise in two days,” explained 39-year-old construction company manager Marta Lempart, who is known as the leader of Strajk Kobiet, or Polish Women’s Strike.

The group, which has amassed more than 60,000 followers on Facebook, boasts of leading the 2016 Black Monday national strike, which played a leading role in stopping Polish authorities from imposing a proposed ban on abortion.

They now plan to do the same in response to a draft bill that seeks to outlaw abortions carried out because of a congenital disorder of the foetus.

Such cases currently account for an estimated 95% of all legal abortions in Poland, where terminations are only permitted under two other circumstances: if the life of the mother is in danger, or when the pregnancy occurred as a result of rape or incest.

More than 200 NGOs around the world signed a statement on Thursday saying the bill would “place women’s health and lives at risk and violate Poland’s international human rights obligations.”

Marta says many members of the network weren’t always pro-abortion, but have been pushed into forming the opinion through personal experiences, or concerns about the ongoing push for tighter legislation.

She is keen to dismiss the role of politicians and celebrities in fuelling the fight, saying the movement “started as a coalition of people and ended as a coalition of people.”

“The movement is in our homes...We are the movement. Computers and offices you can take away so it’s safer for the whole idea — we are in the whole country.”

So who are some of the people behind the movement?

Marta Lempart l 39

Construction company manager l Wroclaw

In 2016, I called for the national strike on Monday, October 3 that took place in 150 cities in Poland and 60 abroad.

I run the national Strike committee: the national helpdesk for all the activists. I am often called and treated as the Strike leader — whatever works. My only job is to create conditions for local leaders to act; provide some financial support, press coverage and legal guidance.

I did not have an abortion, I am actually a lesbian, but I know a few women who did. All for the same reason — they did not want to be pregnant.

A reason to have an abortion is a woman not wanting to stay pregnant. Other factors are there also, of course, but concentrating on them, ranking them, is dangerously close to judging. It does not matter. When a woman wants to give birth, she will. If she does not, she will not.

Miranda Korzeniowska l 41

Artistic furniture-maker l Sanok

I got involved in the pro-choice movement on October 3, 2016. I organise protests, prepare materials and work on social media.

I did not have an abortion and I cannot say that I know someone who did but I believe that every woman should decide for herself.

Let's not force our beliefs upon each other. Let's allow each other to have own views, rationales and decisions.

Eliza Brzozowska

Retired farmer l Węgorzewo

The changes that started after the PiS (Law & Justice party) came to power meant I could not stay calm — I could not just watch it, so I started attending pickets in different cities.

When the ruling majority threw away the civic bill that was supposed to make the law on abortion more liberal in Poland, I called for the first picket in our city, and we did it. Since then we are doing everything that needs to be done — we are on the streets, we prepare protest materials, we are on social media.

The government's need to ban abortion is based on their thinking that women are unable to think for themselves; that we have no empathy; that we are second-class citizens.

It's unimaginable for me that a woman cannot decide about an abortion, knowing that she is unable to take care of the child.

Agata Z. l 53

Interpreter l Kłodzko

I got involved in the movement when the Polish Women's Strike started. The situation made me think about what I forgot many years ago, that every woman should have a right to choose.

I co-organised the protests in Kłodzko. I have tried to create and maintain a local feminist group. I am active on social media, where I get involved in explaining the issues and sometimes I fight on there, too.

Krzysztof Buja l 48

Human resources specialist l Gdańsk

Two years ago, when the anti-choice civil project appeared that would totally ban abortion in Poland, I got involved in the pro-choice fight because I believe that it's one of the basic human rights in the civilised world.

I do whatever needs to be done, whatever I can. I co-organise and participate in demonstrations and educational activities, I co-create and participate in new movements (formal and informal), I discuss the issues a lot — on the internet and in real life.

As far as I know, my mother had an abortion, for social reasons. I know people who had a procedure, but I don’t ask questions about that. That’s none of my business.

Stanisława Kuzio-Podrucka

Banker l Zgorzelec

In my city I am the movement leader and the protests' main organiser. I also promote my events on social media and those of my friends and the whole movement.

When I was pregnant, my only pregnancy, after the ophthalmologist test I had a choice: pregnancy that would end with a cesarean section or abortion. Fortunately there was no "conscience clause" for doctors in Poland back then so I had the choice.

My pregnancy was my choice and I also made a choice to keep it.

Each and every one of us women is reasonable enough that after talking to the doctor, weighing the pros and cons, we will make a good decision for ourselves.

Marta Wosak l 39

Preschool teacher l Wałbrzych

I have always been pro-choice but decided to demonstrate my views when we were threatened with the total abortion ban in Poland in 2016.

I am the main organiser of the Polish Women's Strike actions in my city. I prepare materials, lead demonstrations and events, organise debates, and work on social media.

The fight for choice is a fight for respect, dignity, life and health — mine, my daughter's, all women.

Krzysztof Niciejewski l 42

Stock manager l Wrocław

The right to abortion is an unstrippable right of every woman. She is the one to bear the consequences of her decision — moral and social — so she is the only one entitled to decide about the abortion procedure.

My role is marginal. I am part of the so-called Men's Support of Women's Strike. I mostly support the strike's events with transport, preparations and safety measures.

Aga l 37

Architect l London, UK

My activism started during first big women’s protests in April 2016, first in Warsaw. In June 2016, I had already started organising the first protests in London.

I felt deeply for women who didn’t have any choice and this sense of social injustice was huge as I see access to abortions as a fight for basic human rights.

Currently, I am a co-organiser and co-founder of several feminist movements in London.

I do not have a personal history of struggles to access free and safe abortion. I did not have an abortion myself, but I know women who have gone through these treatments.