Fighting drastic anti-choice banners. Case study: Poland

The anti-choice organizations in Poland are becoming more and more visible in the public sphere with their drastic images which instrumentalize dismembered fetuses to distort the truth about abortion. The Right to Life Foundation has been presenting its manipulative exhibition since 2005, but it was not until the elections in 2015 that they could extend its scope of action. The Right to Life Foundation and The Life and Family Foundation were given a green light by the authorities to misinform the public debate, and to frighten vulnerable persons. Bloody posters, trucks and billboards commonly pop up in front of hospitals, schools and kindergartens in many cities and towns all over Poland.

The Federation for Women and Family Planning has taken the following countermeasures:

  • debunking myths conveyed in the posters, elaborating on the realities of abortion
  • promoting draft offence notifications, which explain how the drastic images are in breach of two articles of the Code of Petty Offences (art. 51 – “Whoever by way of shouting, noise, alarm or any other excess actions disturbs public peace, order, night rest or causes depravation is subject to a penalty of arrest, restriction of freedom or a fine”; art. 141 – “Whoever presents in a public place an indecent announcement, statement or drawing, or uses indecent words, is subject to the penalty of restriction of freedom, a fine of up to 1500 PLN or reprimand.“ Draft offence notification and complaints to the Commissioner for Children’s Rights are available on our website. They can be used against billboards, trucks and pickets. Citizens can either call the police on site and use legal arguments specified in the drafts or they can document the event with a photo, enclose it to the filled draft and send to the police department responsible for a given district.
  • mobilizing people to file offence notifications or inform the municipal guards about the unlawful parking g. on the pavement, which constitutes a breach of the Polish Road Traffic Act
  • appealing to local authorities, which take full responsibility for the quality of life of local residents. The Federation initiated a Facebook campaign that made it easier for individuals to appeal to the respective mayors & departments so as to encourage them to deal with the problem of city residents being terrorized with brutal images. We posted a draft letter and e-mail addresses of the departments responsible. The letter involved legal arguments and scientific data pointing to the devastating effects of the images on children and vulnerable groups such as women in pregnancy, after miscarriages or abortions. In reaction to the campaign, the Department of Education in the Warsaw town hall elaborated legal solutions in case of anti-abortion content exhibited near schools. The guidelines were forwarded to the mayors of Warsaw districts, who were supposed to send them to educational institutions in order to spread knowledge on how to protect pupils from the shocking images. The Security and Crisis Management Department in Warsaw town hall referred our petition to a public prosecutor’s office with “a kind request to evaluate the presented content considering the possibility of committing a crime or offence.”
  • safeguarding legal aid. Lawyers from our Legal Assistance Team prepare complaints against decisions to discontinue proceedings and they represent in courts citizens who filed offence notifications. As a friend of the court, the Federation prepares legal arguments and expertise in form of the “amicus curiae briefs” deliver to the court.

Polish youth is also involved in the fights against anti-abortion propaganda. Secondary school students have repeatedly  covered the posters on the truck with the mocking slogans e.g. “Smoking kills” (instead of “Abortion kills”) or “School is apolitical”). They also gathered signatures under the petition to the Department of Education to protect schools from drastic images.  Furthermore, they started a petition to outlaw The Right to Life Foundation.

Fighting drastic images requires creativity and perseverance. Warsaw hospital known for providing legal abortions sued anti-abortion activists for defamation. Then it modified the statute of the parking so that any social action at the parking now requires consent of the hospital’s management. This means that the anti-choicers could not park near the hospitals. However, the fundamentalists decided to park on the nearby pavement. After numerous appeals and offence notifications from passers-by  and patients the mayor of Bielany Warsaw district took action and changed the traffic rules. As a result new road signs appeared in the area and the truck could finally be towed by the municipal guards.

In order to boost exchange of best practices we encourage you to share experiences of your local organization in the battle against bloody, anti-abortion banners. Please send your lessons learnt via e-mail at federacja@federa.org.pl. Upon your consent, we will post descriptions of your action online, so as to inform and inspire people facing similar challenges.