As we near the conclusion of this year’s bizarre and decidedly unpleasant presidential election, I find my thoughts turning to last month’s successful mass protest by Polish women to defeat that country’s plan to ban abortion completely, and to imprison for up to five years both women seeking the procedure and doctors who perform it.
Specifically, I am struck by the resemblance between Poland’s draconian proposal to further restrict abortion—that country already permits the procedure only in extremely limited circumstances—and the radical rollback in women’s basic reproductive rights proposed by notorious misogynist and White House wannabe, Donald Trump, and his running mate/enabler Mike Pence. The two are pledging, among other things, to appoint Supreme Court justices who would consign Roe. v. Wade “to the ash heap of history, where it belongs,” as Pence has put it.
It’s not the only time events in Poland have made me think of Pence, in particular. When Polish women returned to the streets again late last month to protest yet another government proposal—this one to eliminate Poland’s abortion ban exception when a fetus is not viable or badly damaged—I immediately thought of the vice presidential nominee. A leading foe of abortion rights and Planned Parenthood, both during his service in Congress and in his present job as governor of Indiana, Pence has backed “personhood” measures that would bar abortion nationwide, no exceptions.
In March of this year, Pence signed a brazenly unconstitutional Indiana law, since enjoined by a federal court, that in part barred abortions motivated by a “genetic abnormality,” such as Down syndrome, or by other factors such as race, color, national origin, and sex. This doozie of a law also required both miscarried and aborted fetuses to be “interred or cremated by a facility having possession of the remains”—regardless of when the pregnancy ended. Indiana women responded to Pence’s intrusive measure by sending messages to his office reporting on their periods, a clever campaign dubbed Periods for Pence.
The Trump-Pence ticket’s Poland-style abortion extremism has drawn less notice than it might have otherwise amid a host of depressing if riveting scandals and political side shows, from Trump’s bombast and denigrating attitude and behavior toward women and minorities, to the ruckus over Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
But with any luck, the election’s outcome will bring the focus back to policy, especially when it comes to issues of importance to women. If Clinton wins, her election as the nation’s first female president will be thanks in part to a record outpouring of support from women voters, including many Republicans and independents put off by Trump and his ugly and markedly anti-woman policies, as well as his un-presidential campaign reality show. What these women are saying, really, is that they are done with being treated in disrespectful ways, whether it be in the form of so-called “locker room talk,” grabbing, or denying their ability to make critical and highly personal decisions about their lives.
Krystyna Kacpura, a long-time fighter for reproductive rights in Poland, has written that last month’s victory against oppressive new abortion restrictions has “empowered Polish women,” who will “never be the same again.” I believe the same can be said of American women for whom the 2016 election has stirred up both personal memories of ill-treatment because of their gender, and growing dismay over the Republican Party’s misogynistic and out-of-touch policies around reproductive rights and justice.
If the Republican Party is to ever to reverse the tide of women now fleeing the GOP, its leaders must belatedly disown Trump and Trumpism. More importantly, the party must move away from its obsessive hostility to abortion rights and access.
In Poland, women staved off a direct attack on their rights, and they appear poised to do so on Election Day in the United States. If that happens, it will be a signal to politicians everywhere: Advocating policies that seek to rob women of the right to make their own private decisions about pregnancy and child-bearing is not a decent or smart political strategy.