WARSAW – Antagonism is mounting between today’s right-wing populists and a somewhat unexpected but formidable opponent: women. In the United States, much like in Poland, women’s rights have been among the first targets of attack by populist leaders. Women are not taking it lying down.
Traditional conservatism in the West has largely come to terms with the need to grant women broad reproductive freedom. Today’s right-wing populist administrations, by contrast, are downright pre-modern in this regard, attempting to reverse reforms championed not just by the left – and long accepted by the conventional right.
It is no secret that the mainstream consensus is a source of contempt – and success – for the modern populist, and not just on women’s rights. Donald Trump’s first acts as US President show an eagerness to reject longstanding norms in many other areas as well, including foreign affairs and economic policy.
But it is the attack on women’s rights that is receiving the most powerful pushback. Poland’s de facto leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, has retreated politically only once since his party’s return to power in 2015. Last October, when thousands of women of all ages took to the streets in the “black protest,” his government was forced to withdraw from its plan to introduce a total ban on abortion. (Under the current law, abortion is allowed in the event of rape, severe fetal defects, or a threat to the health of the mother.)