New East Digital Archive

‘This is what a revolution looks like’: Poland’s abortion law protests, in photographs

6 November 2020

On 22 October, the Polish Constitutional Court imposed a near-total ban on abortion, making it practically impossible for women to legally end their pregnancies.

This change in legislation led to a nationwide strike in Poland, with protests following in other European capitals and across the world. With each day, the frustration and anger of the crowd intensified: protestors of all ages and genders donned elaborate makeup and costumes, painting their faces with lighting bolts, or dressing as characters from The Handmaid’s Tale. Others are blocking major roads and bridges, chanting anti-government slogans, and taking to the streets with coat hangers and black umbrellas, two symbols of Poland’s pro-choice movement.

The protests draw inspiration from demonstrations in October 2016, on a day which became known as Black Monday. It saw more than 24,000 Poles dressed in all-black marched in the streets of Warsaw to protest a similar bill against abortion. Four years later, on 30 October, around 150,000 people protested across Warsaw, with supporting action taking place in other Polish cities, in what has become the biggest demonstration in the country since the fall of communism in 1989.

As a result of the uproar, the government has decided to temporarily delay the new clampdown, and the future remains uncertain.

Image: Zula Rabikowska

Image: Zula Rabikowska

I’ve been supporting and documenting the protests since the day they first started, speaking to other photographers I met whilst taking pics on the streets of Krakow. It’s clear that the demonstrations in Poland are no longer just about abortion, but about freedom of choice. Below, I’ve selected a range of voices and visual perspectives of those who have been documenting the protestors’ hopes and dreams, in pictures.

Follow Zula Rabikowska on Instagram.

Joanna Helena

“What’s happening in Poland right now affects everyone. There’s a woman in every family, there are women who love, and who are loved. It’s not just about minorities anymore. When something like this affects literally everyone, it becomes the trigger point and brings a wave of resistance. The energy is powerful, and the solidarity breaks previously existing boundaries between people. This is what a revolution looks like, and its symbol is a red thunderbolt.”

Follow Joanna Helena on Instagram.

Karol Makurat

“In my whole life as a photojournalist, I have never seen a crowd of people so angry at the government. What is happening in Poland is, I hope, the beginning of a revolution.”

Follow Karol Makurat on Instagram.

Kinga Wrona

“On 2 November 2020, protests took place in front of The Bishop’s Palace in Kraków, which is the traditional residence of Kraków bishops since the late 14th century. The group of people who support the new abortion law gathered outside to protect the church during the protests. There were groups of people who continued to pray in front of the church entrance whilst the demonstrations went on around them.”

Follow Kinga Wrona on Instagram.

Michał Gałczyński

“These are the protests of younger generations. Millennials and Generation Z are on the streets, side by side, showing their discontent. The catalyst for these strikes was the abortion ban, but what’s happening right now is much greater. The current conservative government in Poland has divided the country like never before. Those who do not conform to heteronormative expectations are shunned.

These protests represent a defiant “no” in response to the Catholic Church. They are also a reaction towards the way the government is covering up financial affairs, and turning Poles against themselves. This is no longer about abortion, but about the overwhelming influence of the Church and the corruption of the Polish government.”

Follow Michał Gałczyński on Instagram.

Helena Ludkiewicz

“I took this photo at the protest in Łódź on 28 October. It was the most beautiful demonstration I’ve been on so far, and I’ve been going along to every protest since the start. The situation in our country is tough. Nevertheless, it warms my heart to see the unity between young and old people. We are fighting for freedom of choice. It’s surprising that even during the pandemic so many people have decided to leave their homes and fight for their rights. This is the biggest demonstration since 1989 and it means a lot to all of us.”

Follow Helena Ludkiewicz on Instagram.

Agnieszka Ataniel

“It’s not just women who are taking part in the demonstrations. Everyone who is aligned with the aims of the protests feels it as an absolute necessity to take part in them.”

Follow Agnieszka Ataniel on Instagram.

Alicja Lesiak

“I am a photographer from Warsaw and I have spent the last week photographing the protests in the capital city. During the strike I saw a policewoman who was separating radical nationalists and Nazi-supporters with rosaries, who were protecting the church from protesting women. I felt genuine embarrassment in the eyes of the policewoman that she couldn’t stand with us.”

Follow Alicja Lesiak on Instagram.

Magda Wojtanek

“The poster translates as ‘choice’ in English, which is the only thing that we — Polish women— are asking for right now. At this point, it should be clear that no matter what you believe, all of us should be treated equally and no one should ever take away our fundamental right — the freedom of choice. For years, this was made difficult for us, but enough is enough and we are marching in the streets to fight for what belongs to us — our bodies.”

Follow Magda Wojtanek on Instagram.

Michał Korta

“It is very significant that more and more people are taking part in the protests every day. People from small Polish towns like Niepołomice, Myślenice, Oświęcim, or Chełm, which are dominated by right-wing pro-government voters, are also protesting. More and more young people are joining the demonstrations too. This is a photo of Milena, who is 18-years-old. She lives in the small town of Bochnia.”

Follow Michał Korta on Instagram.

Karol Grygoruk

“As a hetero-cis male, I’m a beneficiary of a patriarchal society. That’s a fact. Recognition of my privilege is also my responsibility. We need to understand that toxic masculinity limits us as men and that now we need to stand with all women* fighting for their rights.”

Follow Karol Grygoruk on Instagram.

Adam Lach

“The abortion ban demonstrations are no longer just about abortion. They are about widespread discontent. In Warsaw, Extinction Rebellion joined the anti-abortion ban protests, blocking the traffic, while holding signs saying ‘Strength in Solidarity’. This photo shows an XR protestor in Warsaw.”

Follow Adam Lach on Instagram.

Read more

‘This is what a revolution looks like’: Poland's abortion law protests, in photographs

Signs of revolt: the illustrators using art to protest Poland’s abortion crackdown

‘This is what a revolution looks like’: Poland's abortion law protests, in photographs

The price of choice: what I learned photographing women denied their reproductive rights across the globe

‘This is what a revolution looks like’: Poland's abortion law protests, in photographs

Solar panels and selfies: how Polish artists are pushing back against ultra-conservatism