Europe’s lurch to the right is bad news for women’s autonomy over their bodies

Black Monday.
Black Monday.
Image: AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Women in Poland are walking off their jobs today, but their strike isn’t just about labor relations.  The mass action is about autonomy over their bodies—namely, whether women or the government should decide if and when terminating a pregnancy is appropriate.

The issue has been fodder for a number of far-rights groups that have made gains across Europe. In France, the National Front, led by Marine le Pen, has made opposition to abortion part of their platform in the run-up to elections in May. In Germany, the far-right Alternative Fur Deutschland party, which made election gains in chancellor Angela Merkel’s home state last month, includes banning abortion in its manifesto.

The Polish strike is a reaction to a petition by an anti-abortion group to restrict access to terminations. The petition has gained enough support to be debated in parliament, although it isn’t backed by any particular political party. Poland already has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, allowing them only in cases such as rape or when the fetus is terminally ill.

The country moved heavily to the right in October 2015, when the Law and Justice party came to power on a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment. The prime minister has said she supports further restrictions on abortions; women have marched in protest before.

Abortion is legal–with various hurdles and restrictions–in most of Europe. A big exception is Ireland, where abortion is illegal in almost all cases. Irish women who need abortions travel to the UK, if they can afford it.

In the US, a vocal and violent anti-abortion movement ensures that the issue remains one of the most contentious in American politics. Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for the presidency, has a more moderate stance on abortion, although his running mate Mike Pence is considered a hardline anti-abortionist.

Why is opposing abortion so often a policy of the right? One often-cited reason is the appeal to traditional family values. Polish women argue that women are not “incubators” (link in Polish) for such families.