I Know What’s Best for You: Stories on Reproductive Freedom, edited by Shelly Oria, is a multigenre anthology with a focus on the crisis of reproductive rights in the United States. The book’s international supplement features sixteen additional works of fiction, nonfiction, and art by contributors from around the globe. Order the book, and receive the supplement, I Know What’s Best for You All Over the World, free as an e-book. Editor and author Shelly Oria will be touring through the summer of 2022, joined by contributors to the book as well as many other writers and artists.
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One Word: Abortion
by Sylwia Chutnik
Before the systemic transformation, abortion was legal in Poland beginning in 1956. Only in 1993, when the then government wanted to make a “gift” to the Catholic Church, was the law changed so that the termination of pregnancy could be possible only in three cases: when the pregnancy threatened the mother’s life, when it was the result of a committed crime, or when there was a high probability of severe and irreversible impairment of the fetus or an incurable, life-threatening disease. After the judgment of the Constitutional Court, this last point was removed. In practice, women have to travel abroad or order tablets online to have an abortion. Polish provisions are one of the most restrictive in Europe and in the world. Perhaps the marriage of the Church’s politics and activity is to blame for this.
I have been active in the feminist movement in Poland for over twenty-five years. I have always been a nice and sympathetic activist, who will put my arm around your shoulder and explain it all again like a patient woman. I will explain what feminism is, and why abortion should be legal.
What is it like being a mother and working for women’s rights at the same time? You know, all those kinds of infuriating questions that journalists, internet trolls, and men who are concerned about my morals ask. I have answered, explained my position, and quoted the data as well as statements from the relevant party—that is to say, women.
And then I turn on the television, where experts in everything—almost never women—debate about reproductive health and uteri. And then I hear about bills that would condemn, for example, giving birth to children resulting from rape.
Something has to change, I thought when I saw the news. For how long is it possible to curtsy politely in front of an accusing crowd and recite a single poem? To say that self-determination is a human right? That a woman is a person with her own identity and values? That it is she and only she who should make decisions about her life?
Abortion in Poland is “outrageous” in theory, but not so difficult to do in practice. Constantly talking about the “unborn” overshadows the essence of the problem. There is no sex education in our country, and IVF is not subsidized. In October 2020, the Constitutional Court, under pressure from the right-wing government, banned abortion for fetal defects.
You don’t want kids? That’s your problem. You want children? That’s also your problem. And again, those who have money can and will go to neighboring countries for surgery, and the rest will use home methods or pills ordered on the internet to try to terminate the pregnancy. Thanks to organizations such as Abortion Without Borders, people know that they are not alone if they want to terminate their pregnancies. The slogan of the Women’s Strike protests was the promise “When the state does not protect me, my sisters will protect me,” and the hashtag #nigdyniebędzieszłasama—#youwillneverwalkalone—became one of the most popular.
Politicians and conservative defenders of the fetus are usually in favor of the death penalty. And those who feel sorry for the “unborn” despise the born at the same time, especially those “borns” who do not share their views. Hypocrisy is part of human nature, which is why it is so easy for someone to say: give birth to a child conceived from rape. Give birth to a child who will depend on their parents for the rest of their life and will have to be supported somehow for pennies from the nursing allowance.
Who cares, women will bear the brunt.
There are also other arguments, ones that communicate staggering contempt for women. Because she could have avoided getting pregnant and didn’t, she should pay the price. This is one of my favorite “wisdoms”—that you should have protected yourself. That you, as a woman, should have done it in a different way. If not: well, now you have to pay for it.
Of course, not everyone can afford contraception, not to mention that it doesn’t always work. When the word “penis” is not mentioned even once during the lessons of education for family life (conducted, for example, by catechists), is it surprising that all knowledge is derived from pornography? And in such films, pregnancy does not occur.
The latest report prepared by sex educators from the Ponton Group leaves no illusions: our young people learn about sex on their own from the internet or their friends. Schools’ messages are baffling: they say that abortion is the dismemberment of babies in the stomach, that all pedophilia is pederasty, that masturbation leads to mental illness. So when a woman has an unwanted pregnancy in her adult life, she feels she is alone with it. If she qualifies for legal abortion, she then has to go through the road map of a nightmare. And it’s not surprising that women talk about post-abortion syndrome—if you keep telling someone that they are sinning, it’s hard not to get paranoid afterward.
Women are treated as passive beings who are not completely able to understand what is happening to them and their bodies. Men blackmail with a silent scream—a womb like a cradle and killing—you must give birth: we are not interested in your feelings and needs.
I’m sure if men were to give birth, abortion would be legal. Even in Catholic Poland.
Sylwia Chutnik is a writer, publicist, social activist, and promoter of reading from Warsaw, Poland. She is the Laureate of Polityka’s Passport 2008 (literature). A three-time nominee for the Nike Award (in 2009, 2012, and 2015), she has published books in Germany, Russia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, North America, Serbia, and Lithuania.
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Order I Know What’s Best for You: Stories on Reproductive Freedom and receive the book’s international supplement, I Know What’s Best for You All Over the World, free as an e-book.