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How are Polish artists fighting for their abortion rights? We investigate.

Karolina Micuła stands topless on the roof of a car, wearing a black mask with a red lightning bolt during a protest against restrictive Polish abortion rights.

The smoke stick in her left-hand blows yellow smoke over the massive crowd around her. Her friend Monica is on top of another car. “[Monica] said something very touching,”

Micuła remembered that Monday night, “she said that she won the fight against cancer and now she wants to win the fight with our government.” 

Women’s fight for Polish reproductive rights continues…

The Polish court outlawed pregnancy terminations on the grounds of severe health defects Thursday, October 22. This means a near-total ban on abortions in the mainly Catholic country.

Poland currently has some of the tightest abortion rights restrictions in Europe. The ruling resulted in nationwide strikes that have been going on for more than a week. “We didn’t expect that people would like to be on the streets every day,” said the Polish artist. 

Micuła is one of the main coordinators of Strajk Kobiet (polish for women’s strike). This Polish opposition group, which is fighting for female autonomy and government reform, has been organizing protests around the country. 

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Jutro jest Tęczowy Piątek, więc łapcie naszą grafikę w wersji, którą w 2017 roku przygotowały dla nas osoby ze Stowarzyszenia Miłość Nie Wyklucza, dlatego, że od samego początku uczestniczymy w Marszach Równości w całej Polsce, a w naszych postulatach, żądamy Polski dla wszystkich. Czyli takiej, w której Prawa Człowieka są dla wszystkich – w tym osób LGBTQiA+. Więcej o tęczowym piątku: Wydrukuj swój tęczowy plakat – świętuj Tęczowy Piątek na Strajku Kobiet! Plakat do pobrania tu: #StrajkKobiet #StrajkWszystkich #tbt Nasze postulaty, które powstały w 2017 roku na spotkaniu grup lokalnych z całej Polski i zostały zaktualizowane w 2018 roku przed Międzynarodowym Strajkiem Kobiet znajdziecie tutaj:

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When we spoke to Micuła, she was right in the middle of planning their biggest protest to date, which starts Friday at 5PM local time (12PM EST). They expect up to a million people to participate. 

“This time we want all people to come to Warsaw so we expect something very massive,” she said on the zoom call. Before, the protests were scattered in different cities and towns. “We will have three different points where we are meeting, and we will walk towards each other.”

Micuła, who describes herself as an art activist and artist before noting that she actually doesn’t like labels at all, creates performances that are somewhere between theater and music. Her presence during the Polish protest on Monday wasn’t anything new to her.

Her first performance in 2016 was very similar: “[2016] was the first time I came up with the idea to use my body and I was standing with my naked breasts on the stage and I was painting myself with Polish flag colors, red and white, so the thing that I did on Monday was kind of related to my first performance.”

That was the first year of the women’s strike after the government announced its first plans to tighten abortion laws. 

Hania Hafty has also been using her art to support the movement and Polish protests. Hafty, who lives in a small city in Southern Poland, is one of the handfuls of Polish embroidery activists.  

She has been posting about the legislation and protest to her embroidery Instagram. “Embroidery can be decorative, but it can [also] be a manifesto and sometimes it can be both,” Hafty said, who’s currently working on a project about female empowerment.

“You don’t have to close yourself, just have an open head full of ideas and efficient hands.” 

Hafty has also physically participated in the protests with friends. “After the decision of the Polish court, people take to the streets – everywhere, in small and large cities, no difference,” she wrote in an email.

“I think that it has advantages and disadvantages, but maybe such a revolution is the only right answer to the behavior of the Polish ruling politics at the moment.” 

Polish abortion rights are a highly divisive topic

With the majority of the country identifying as Catholic and with the church having a significant influence on daily life, surveys have shown that the majority of Poles (65% according to a CBOS survey) are against abortions.

However, the polls also showed that most are against this new, stricter regulation. Of the about 1000 legal abortions that took place in Poland last year, 98% were carried out on the ground with severe birth defects. This reason has now been ruled illegal

Karolina Wieckiewicz is a Warsaw-based embroidery artist and part of the group Aborcyjny Dream Team. The group provides information on and works to destigmatize abortions. 

“We have a lot of work as Abortion Dream Team so I don’t have that much time to make new pieces right now but I have some planned with the most popular statements,” the Polish artist told Kulture Hub in an email. 

Polish artists make an impact

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This piece was inspired by a piece of art my friend gave me for my bday. I love this so much and I made one for here and for Etsy and one for my friend. I feel like these should be made with any art any person does. And spread out through the world ❤️ @chaosxgrrlz thank you! 🧵 You can support my activism and buy my pieces on ETSY! Thank you ✊🏻💜 ‼️ I am banning every person who says nasty things about abortion. I am banning all people who come to troll and are not willing to get to know more or discuss but are here to repeat things about “babies” and “heartbeat”. Just be aware of this. And I encourage you to go troll somewhere else. This is a safe zone for those with abortion experience. #aborcja #abortion #abortionisok #abortionisnormal #abortions #abortionsarenormal #abortionisfreedom #abortionrights #proabortion #embroidery #embroideryart #abortionmemes #prochoice #endabortionstigma #wemakeinroads #shoutyourabortion #proabo #embroiderydesign #art #activism #abortionart #wetestify #stopabortionbans #etsy #etsyshop #abortionactivism #politicalembroidery #aborto #abortolibre

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Her embroidery includes stitched phrases such as “trust your feminist abortion providers”, “defund police, not abortions”, and “abortion bans are a punishment for female sexuality.”

The Polish artist’s work is colorful and to the point. “I never learned any complicated stitches, I just write things and stitch them,” Wieckiewicz said. “And maybe that’s the reason I find it difficult to call myself an artist.” 

Through her art and her involvement in the Abortion Dream Teamand Polish protests, Wieckiewicz hopes to normalize abortions and to show that “abortion [are] there, [have] always been and will be with us, it’s a part of our sexual lives.”

The Polish protest Friday will not be the last. “I know that we have plans for the upcoming days, for the upcoming weeks,” said Micuła.

“Right now, we’ve never had such crowds on the streets so that’s why we started to call it a revolution.”

Micuła hopes these actions will eventually force her government to loosen the grip on Polish abortion rights. “I don’t know, I like to be optimistic.”