Upsurges in activism are often perceived as waves or cycles of protests that correspond to times of intense social movement activity intertwined with periods when activities are less visible and movements are “in suspension,” taking a more institutionalized form. However, in the case of feminist movements, this wave-like approach is not entirely justified and appropriate. Despite recognizing forms of continuity characteristic of feminist movements, such an approach underlines the divisions between successive “waves.” It has been also criticized for being ethnocentric and ignoring the temporality of feminist movements in various parts of the world. The struggle for women’s rights is strongly determined by history, as well as the specific social and cultural contexts prevailing in a given place. Therefore, while the wave assumption is valid for an understanding of feminism’s temporality in the United States and the United Kingdom, it might not be as helpful in understanding feminism in a post-communist country such as Poland, where the history of feminist movements has been distinctly different.1
In every cycle, protests fade out after the peak and decrease in number and popularity. As for the key question—what comes after the cycle of protests?—scholars have prepared a number of answers. There may be another cycle of protest, counter-movements may emerge, political and social goals may be reached, repression may intimidate the movement in question, and so on. In the case of the Polish Women’s Strike, the political goals were never met, and the verdict of the Constitutional Tribunal, published October 22, 2020, sparked a continuation of protests. With the conservative Law and Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, or PiS) having a marginal but secure majority in the lower chamber of the parliament, any significant political moves are still out of question. The energy of the people participating in the protests has evaporated and major opposition parties, with the exception of the Left party, have not included the issue of reproductive rights in their current political agendas. But nevertheless, this cycle of protests has had, in our opinion, a long-lasting and important effect, changing the values and political preferences of specific gender and age groups, as well as affecting the common perception of political protests in Poland.
In the Polish public debate, reproductive rights became a particularly important topic during the political transition of 1989. Under Communist rule, pregnant people had the right to terminate pregnancy on demand. The Solidarność camp took a (neo)conservative turn during the mid-1980s, and the anti-choice lobby grew stronger and more vocal internally. One of the issues discussed in the second meeting of delegates of the “Solidarność” trade union was a call to ban abortion in Poland. After the women’s faction protested against this call, it was disbanded in 1990. With Catholic fundamentalists gaining more power and liberals taking an ambivalent stance, more and more restrictions on reproductive rights came into effect, creating a more oppressive zeitgeist.
A status quo was established in 1993, via regulations later dubbed “the abortion compromise.” The compromise allows abortion in four situations: when the pregnancy is a result of a crime (rape or incest), when the mother’s life or health is endangered, when the fetus shows terminal or severe genetic flaws, or when there will be “serious life hardship.” The latter case was abolished by the Constitutional Tribunal in 1997. Elżbieta Matynia writes that these anti-abortion measures were voted on “in the favorable context of the fresh and authentic gratitude that society felt toward the Catholic Church for its long service on behalf of the survival of the Polish nation.” Since then, “the Polish abortion law has become a ‘cultural specificity.’”2
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