Sunday, June 12, 2022


Pundits often tell us that the right-wing backlash we're beginning to experience now will be unsustainable. They claim that a party of white far-right Christianists can't hold power for very long in a country that's becoming more diverse, less Christian, more accepting of LGBTQ rights, angrier about gun violence, persistently supportive of abortion rights, and so on. Sure, we're told, Republicans might seize all power in D.C. after the 2024 election -- but they can't keep it for very long. The people won't stand for it. The mismatch between the laws Republicans pass (or the Republican Supreme Court makes) and what the people actually want will force the country to change.

A New York Times story about abortion in Poland makes clear that that's now how it works, even in a democracy.
The long battle over Poland’s 29-year-old ban on abortion has intensified over the past 17 months after the elimination of the last significant exception permitting the procedure — fetal abnormalities....

Only one in 10 Poles support the stricter ban, which was enabled by a decision by the country’s highest court, dominated by judges loyal to a deeply conservative government. The rest of the population is roughly split between reverting to milder restrictions and legalizing terminations.

The consequences in Poland have been far-reaching: Abortion-rights activists have been threatened with prison for handing out abortion pills. The number of Polish women traveling abroad to get abortions, already in the thousands, has swelled further. A black market of abortion pills — some fake and many overpriced — is thriving.

Technically, the law still allows abortions if there is a serious risk to a woman’s health and life. But critics say it fails to provide necessary clarity, paralyzing doctors.

“This law creates problems for doctors and patients,” Jan Kochanowicz, a doctor who is also the director of the University Clinical Hospital in Bialystok, the largest city in northeastern Poland, said in an interview. “There is no clear and straightforward answer to what constitutes a threat to a woman’s health and life. Doctors are afraid to make decisions.”
And so a doctor who performs abortions in Berlin, and who often sees women who've traveled from Poland, tells us:
“We have a lot of Polish women with cancer who are told, ‘No, we can’t give you cancer treatment because you’re pregnant and it could hurt the baby,’” Dr. Müller said.

Recently, a 39-year-old woman with metastasizing bronchial cancer came for an abortion after her Polish doctor had delayed her chemotherapy for six weeks.

“Cancer spreads extremely fast during pregnancy,” Dr. Müller said. “A six-week delay is almost a death sentence.”
In January, a 37-year-old woman carrying twins died after one of her fetuses had died and doctors did not remove it for seven days. The family accused the doctors of waiting for fear of harming the other fetus and being subject to possible prosecution.

Another woman, who was 19 weeks pregnant when her water broke, developed an infection and nearly died after doctors waited four days until her fetus’s heartbeat had stopped before removing it.
The story tells us that Poland was a destination for those seeking abortion in the days before the fall of communism.
But that changed after the Communist government collapsed in 1989. Bowing to pressure from a newly assertive Catholic Church, which had supported the fight against Communism, the new Parliament proposed an abortion ban....

Women’s groups organized protests and signed petitions. Three in four Poles told pollsters at the time that they preferred the issue to be settled by a referendum, not by Parliament. The country was almost evenly split, with 53 percent in favor of the liberal status quo.

Even so, Parliament outlawed abortion in 1993 with three exceptions: danger to the health or life of the mother; rape or incest; fetal abnormalities.
Poles adjusted to that laws, abortion went underground, abortion rights were restored in 1996 by a liberal government and then struck down by the conservative Supreme Court. "Over the next two decades, public schools were obliged to teach children about 'responsible parenthood' and 'life in the prenatal phase.' Abortion became a taboo." And then the exception that permitted abortion in the case of fetal abnormalities was removed. There have been waves of mass protest, but the law is in effect now. And polls showing that most Poles object to the current law say that two-thirds would prefer to revert to the previous, very restrictive law, which at least allowed abortion if there are fetal abnormalities. Only 19% tells pollsters they want real liberalization of abortion law. So public opinion has been pushed rightward by government force -- or maybe, after two decades, most Poles just can't imagine what it's like to have real reproductive rights.

This could happen in America, on many issues. We'll get used to the right-wing status quo. Maybe we'll protest, but the Overton window will move further and further rightward (as it has in recent decades onsuch issues as labor rights and the national minimum wage). We have to stop the right early. We shouldn't assume we'll easily be able to reverse what Republicans do to us in the future, or have done to us already.

No comments: