En-Gender! Volume 3 Issue 1 (2020)

Piety, patriarchy and politics: A relationship with the power to control women’s reproductive rights in Poland

by Olivia Stanek

Olivia Stanek is a recent Law graduate of the University of Warwick, with a strong interest in Human Rights law. She is currently setting out into the fresh world of work with ambition and strive, taking every opportunity that comes her way.

Keywords: Poland, Law and Justice, Abortion, National Identity, Reproductive Rights


In 2015, the national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party won an outright majority in the Polish Parliament, paving the road for a deepening bond between the church and state. Poland currently has one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws, and in 2016, thousands of women took to the streets to protest the party’s desires to criminalise all cases of abortion. 80% of Poland’s citizens identify as religious, whilst not everybody is in harmony over the moral discussions of abortion. Through extensive examination of literature, I wish to find out why this is the case, and whether there is in fact a correlation between the church, patriarchal norms and values, and political pushes.

At a time where the Polish state seized to exist, the church was a leaning presence in the lives of citizens, hence Poland’s national identity derives from Catholicism. Contrary to some expectations, the collapse of communism in 1989 did not signal a new era for women’s rights. A brief examination of the underlying history and reasons for the relationship of people with the church will aid the understanding of the reasons behind the impact of religion on politics and values, and thereby restrictive abortion laws.

The article hopes to understand why pushes from feminist movements in Poland have not been as successful. Perhaps the pressure from the mixture of patriarchy, religious authorities and political parties has resulted in a collective return to traditional values, with conventional childbearing roles becoming the push in Polish political discourse. It is inevitable that religion shapes values, and values shape the law, hence, it will be interesting to understand why this is the case despite the common perception that religion is slowly ‘dying out’ with generations. 

Review by Halle Rempel:

This article is a brilliant piece of sociohistoric work, working its way through the fall of communism in Poland and its effects on religion, women’s rights, and abortion. The author explains how women in Poland have seen various degrees of freedom. At the same time, they are in a state of being considered only as mothers and wives — their personhood being stripped away. The Polish state described in this writing resembles that of a theocracy in the ways the Catholic Church has complete control over political life, the public sphere, and the personal sphere. It is evident by reading this that there is a need for a separation between church and state… lives depend on it.

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