‘Our government shouldn’t ban abortion,’ Karolina (22) states resolutely. ‘Instead, it should ask itself, how can we help women with the issues they face?’ We are sitting on a bench in the Saxon Garden, right next to Piłsudski Square, where PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński has just attended the monthly memorial of the Smolensk disaster in which his brother, and then president, Lech Kaczyński died.
A group of anti-PiS protesters can still occasionally be heard through their megaphones while we talk. Other than that, the city seems perfectly calm again, with people strolling the park, enjoying an ice cream on a beautiful spring day. One of the first such days after a long and often tense winter.

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Karolina says that she attended some, but not all of the protests. ‘It is important for me to show support, because I believe in the cause, but for me personally it is too much to be there all the time.’ She believes in small actions, she tells me. ‘Talking to people around me, trying to change their minds.’
For her, it’s crystal clear. ‘Abortion should not be forbidden at all. It’s really important that people can make their own decisions.’ She notes that, looking at the statistics, abortion is simply a fact. Even though, on paper, there are not a lot of legal abortions in Poland, estimates show that up to a hundred thousand women a year perform an abortion through other means or abroad. She stresses that it’s also a socio-economic issue. ‘If you are wealthy, you can go abroad and do it safely. Poorer people are disproportionately affected by this ban.’
Karolina is studying to become a doctor. ‘I think that as a doctor you should be accepting of your patients. You should support them and help them, not judge them. Life is messy sometimes, and not everyone is ready or up for the task of raising children, let alone a very sick child.’ Especially, she says, because the healthcare system doesn’t support them properly. ‘This country forces you to give birth, but the help ends when you deliver a baby. When it comes to raising a sick child, there is no hope if you are not a millionaire. You are screwed.’
She recalls an interview she recently heard. ‘A mother of a really sick child said she knows God chose her to be the mother of this child, because she is strong enough to raise him. Maybe that is true, but not everyone knows if they are strong enough. We shouldn’t choose life paths for other people. It is unfair to force women into being heroes against their will.’
She thinks there is a generational conflict at play. ‘Young people want to be free, we want to choose our own way of life. But most politicians are middle-aged and they are looking for votes from older people, who are more influenced by the Church. It’s all political. Waging these cultural battles is just the easiest way for them to gain support.’
And this cultural battle goes beyond the abortion fight. ‘In Poland, when you raise a girl, you teach her how to be a good wife,’ says Karolina.’ You tell her that she has to be nice, gentle, always has to look neat. But girls, when they grow up, find out that they can choose their own path. We are smart, we are capable, we are beautiful and strong. We can be whatever we want.’
Even though she thinks there is a generational aspect to it, she also thinks that there is still a lot of work to do amongst her own generation as well. ‘It almost seems,’ she says, ‘as if young men have even more traditional ways of thinking about the role of women in society. They often support very far-right parties as well. Maybe they just don’t know how to deal with these outspoken young women. Maybe it frustrates them.’
Poland is, in a lot of ways, a very traditional society, Karolina says. ‘I like my traditions as well. But the country will have to find ways to combine those traditional cultural aspects with more progressive ideas. ‘
She hopes that as a doctor she can make a difference. ‘I will be able to help people. My words will have an actual impact.’

For Wojna Kris Oosting spoke with several protesters and activists about their motivations, experiences and expectations for the future. On this website you find a selection of interviews from the book.