Poland’s main opposition group, the centrist Civic Coalition (KO), has removed a candidate from its electoral lists after she called for allowing abortion at any stage of pregnancy. Though KO wants to liberalise Poland’s strict abortion law, it supports allowing terminations only up to the 12th week of pregnancy.
“Civic Coalition does not support this solution [of late-term abortion],” said one of its leaders, Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska. “We have a ‘Pact for Women’. We will implement it. But politics is not about stunts, it is a serious matter and the words you say matter a lot.”
Women’s rights is the “number one issue” in Poland, says opposition leader @donaldtusk
He declared abortion up to 12 weeks, IVF, contraception and sex education to be „fundamental rights” and pledged gender parity among his party’s top election candidates https://t.co/nWMzwejVRJ
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) March 22, 2023
The controversy was caused by Jana Shostak, an artist and activist known for promoting feminist causes as well as democracy in Belarus, the country of her birth. She was recently unveiled as a KO election candidate in the northeastern Podlaskie province.
Yesterday, Shostak gave an interview to news website Onet in which she outlined her feminist views, including her support for abortion. She revealed that she herself had had an abortion in the past.
When asked if she supported abortion “regardless of the stage of pregnancy”, Shostak answered “yes”. Surprised by the answer – as no party in Poland supports such an extreme position – the interviewer asked her again if she was in favour of abortion even after the 12th week.
Shostak again said: “Yes…I am a modern suffragette and I believe that the strength of women in this country is the majority [sic].”
Kandydatka koalicji obywatelskiej za aborcją do 9 miesiąca ciąży
Ładny ma program Donald Tusk i Kołodziejczak pic.twitter.com/wBzhKvWP4k
— Radosław Poszwiński (@bogdan607) August 23, 2023
Shostak’s remarks sparked outrage from many figures on the right, including in the national-conservative government. They criticised Civic Platform (PO) – the main party that forms KO – and its leader Donald Tusk for allowing her to stand as a candidate.
“Jana Shostak – a Belarusian LGBT activist who is a PO candidate – wants to legalise the killing of unborn children even until the day they are born,” tweeted justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro.
“Herr Donald Tusk – so far you have been known only as a vile liar, but the fact that you want to introduce supporters of murdering people to parliament excludes you from our civilization,” added Ziobro. Polish government figures often portray Tusk as representing German interests.
Jana Shostak – białoruska aktywistka LGBT, która jest kandydatką @Platforma_org – chce zalegalizować zabijanie nienarodzonych dzieci nawet do dnia porodu. Herr @donaldtusk – dotąd dałeś się poznać tylko jako podły kłamca, ale to, że chcesz wprowadzić do Sejmu zwolenników… pic.twitter.com/dGv82VEZOB
— Zbigniew Ziobro | SP (@ZiobroPL) August 23, 2023
Figures from PO were quick to note that Shostak had been proposed as a candidate by The Greens (Zieloni), one of the various smaller groups that are also part of KO.
This morning, Kidawa-Błońska – a deputy leader of PO – announced that Shostak would be removed from KO’s electoral lists. That was later officially confirmed by the coalition.
“The national board [of KO] took the decision unanimously,” Borys Budka, the head of KO’s parliamentary caucus, told broadcaster Polsat. “Unfortunately some of the postulates presented by Jana are very far from those of KO,” said Przemysław Słowik, the co-leader of The Greens.
Shostak herself told Onet that she “does not regret my words” and said she would be willing to stand for a different party. “The most important thing is not to be intimidated,” she added.
Jest potwierdzenie – Jana Shostak wypada z list KO do Sejmu.
„Zarząd Krajowy podjął taką decyzję jednogłośnie. Była to decyzja Zarządu, która nie wymaga uzasadnienia.” – mówi @bbudka
— Wojciech Dąbrowski (@W_Dabrowski) August 24, 2023
Last year, Tusk declared his support for allowing abortion on demand up to the 12th week of pregnancy. He later stipulated that only those who endorse that aim would be allowed to stand as election candidates for his group.
Most other opposition parties also support ending Poland’s near-total abortion ban, though even The Left (Lewica) – the most liberal party on women’s reproductive rights – does not go further than advocating legal terminations up to 12 weeks.
Shostak, who moved to Poland at the age of 17, came to prominence in 2021 during protests in Warsaw against Belarusian dictator Aleksander Lukashenko, during which she let out a long, loud scream in front of television cameras.
After drawing comments and some criticism for the fact she was not wearing a bra, Shostak embraced that and launched a campaign, #CleavageForBelarus (#DekoltDlaBiałorusi), which often involved her and other women painting messages on their breasts and necklines.
Krzyk rozpaczy rozrywający ciszę wolności. Dzisiaj w Polsce o Białorusi. Oby nie jutro w Europie o…. Polsce. #DekoltDlaBiałorusi Foto: Mikołaj Janeczek
Więcej: https://t.co/AaQbp8p8mX pic.twitter.com/YCAz9PFr8G
— Adam Szejnfeld (@szejnfeld) June 3, 2021
Since unveiling its electoral lists last week, KO has faced controversy over a number of its candidates, including a farmers’ leader who in the past has made anti-EU, anti-US and pro-Russia remarks as well as a TV presenter who in the 1980s cooperated with the communist intelligence services.
KO is currently polling second, with support of around 29%, behind the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which is on 34%. Elections will take place on 15 October.
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.