Polish women may be forced to register with government if they become pregnant

// 9 October 2008

women's day march in Gdansk, PolandThe Polish government wants to introduce a database of pregnant women, in an attempt to stop illegal abortions, we learn from Feminoteka, by way of the Feminist Peace Network.

Effectively, Feminoteka points out, this would put pregnant women under state surveillance, not to mention being a vast breach of human rights and doctor-patient confidentiality.

Feminoteka is calling for women everywhere to take part in their protest against this measure, by sending used sanitary pads and tampons* to Polish health minister Ewa Kopacz:

Minister Ewa Kopacz

ul. Miodowa 15

00-952 Warszawa


Dear Minister Kopacz,

I know that you are planning to build a database of pregnancies in Poland. I am not a Polish citizen, but I too would like to be registered in your system. I thought you may be interested to know that I am not pregnant, and therefore unlikely to have an abortion. I send you my towel/ tampon as proof. I will be glad to keep you up to date on the state of my reproductive system.

yours sincerely,

(name, address)

If you decide to support Polish women in this effort to respond to our government’s curiosity, please contact the Feminoteka Foundation, the inventors of the action, send e-mail to: info @ feminoteka.pl.

* Or, alternatively, they suggest staining a fresh one with something red!

Photo of Polish women’s day march by 3mieszczanka, shared under a Creative Commons license. Yes, I tried to find a good photo of a used tampon

Comments From You

Laura Woodhouse // Posted 9 October 2008 at 8:42 pm

What a brilliant campaign, I’m in! But what a terrible situation.

grammarpanda // Posted 9 October 2008 at 9:55 pm

You know these tampons are going to end up going into a mailing office full of people who had NOTHING to do with writing the legislation, and who do not want their offices to smell like rotting menses. :(

As someone who works in healthcare [and is extremely pro-choice], I think the sanitation concern here is greater than the message.

Sabre // Posted 10 October 2008 at 9:55 am

While this situation is awful, I have to agree with grammarpanda here; those used sanitory products are certainly not going to end up on the Minister’s desk. If not in the mailing office then on the desks of assistants. The shock-value is unignorable though, so perhaps it would be better to send products stained red with paint or ink or something else. That way avoiding sanitation issues but still making the point.

BareNakedLady // Posted 10 October 2008 at 10:01 am

Readers may wish to note that anyone attempting to send a used tampon/towel through the post would be sending something which is prohibited by Royal Mail and probably most other postage/courier services and may face prosecution as a result of their actions! Has this campaign been thought through I wonder!!

Royal Mail prohibited items list here:


Cara // Posted 10 October 2008 at 10:50 am

My first thought on reading this was “Jesus”…ironically. There is the problem.

How…eurgh…there are no words. Seriously. Just. No.

I share grammarpanda’s reservations about the used pads and tampons…even if it was just red dye and not actually menstrual blood…it could be used to make those who sent them in, and by association all feminists, crazy. I can just imagine the Polish equivalent of the Mail’s take on it.

Laura // Posted 10 October 2008 at 11:14 am

OK, maybe it’s a great idea in theory rather than practice!

Jess McCabe // Posted 10 October 2008 at 11:20 am

Well, I’m just relaying the details of the protest as planned by Polish women who will be directly affected by this draconian measure – if people are concerned about the ramifications, you can always do as they suggest and send a ‘fake’ used tampon instead.

Cara // Posted 10 October 2008 at 11:38 am

Sorry, that should have been “it could be used to make those who sent them in, and by association all feminists, SEEM crazy”.

I am just saying it wouldn’t look great…people can’t cope with euw icky periods, see the piece on a used tampon being in a play causing outrage! Yeah it *shouldn’t* be that way, but…it’s reality.

Also I too feel sorry for the poor junior person having to open this post, it’s not their fault their bosses are morons.

I mean yeah periods are nothing to be ashamed of, doesn’t mean I would want to handle someone’s bodily fluids.

If it was clearly not actual blood and just red dye, maybe, but I’d still worry about unscrupulous reporting in the media not making that distinction.

I did like the idea in theory, though. And don’t get me wrong, they will be getting an e-mail from me. Oh yes.

Jess McCabe // Posted 10 October 2008 at 12:11 pm

I don’t know, Cara.

Usually I would agree with criticisms of a protest of this nature – particularly because of the impact on whoever has to open the post!

However, I think that, in this case, the people best placed to come up with a well-aimed protest are Polish women directly affected by the situation, who know the political context, who have surely put thought into these issues too, and have come to the conclusion this is a good way for women outside of Poland to support them.

The point is the shock value, and the protest clearly relies on the taboo of menstruation – the minister wants to further restrict women’s reproductive rights, remember – if they are up to a database of pregnant women, then perhaps its not too much to expect them to be confronted with a bit of menstral blood – especially if it’s fake! Abortion is already illegal in Poland, but not content with this, the government wants to monitor women to make sure they don’t seek abortions illegally or from another country. This is an extreme situation, I can see how Polish women might feel it demands an extreme response.

Ultimately, it seems to me that the idea is to indicate contempt for the minister and government. How feminism is afterwards interpretted by a government that is intent on enforcing such a measure doesn’t really seem of particular importance to me…! It may attract negative media attention, but then Feminoteka may have deliberately chosen this provocative campaign in order to attract media attention, even of the negative kind.

It’s important to properly think through action, and if the situation was less dire, then I would probably agree with the critique. Most forms of direct action have unintended consequences on someone – the suffragettes caused damage, and I’m sure it wasn’t MPs clearing up the mess. Although all this needs to be considered, I think it’s also important to be prepared to – while understanding these consequences – also be able to recongise when it is appropriate to take action anyway. For some people, this may be one of those times – but others may not think so, or may want to take action in a different way. That’s OK.

If anyone is uncomfortable with the particular method of protest, there’s always alternatives – you could send the message with a dyed tampon, or a photo of a dyed tampon, or you could just write your own letter or email (letters tend to be more effective) to the minister, in your own words. You could insert a second letter, to the mail opener. You could get in touch with Feminoteka here and ask them why they’ve chosen this form of protest, or if they have any alternative suggestions that you’re more comfortable with.

Liz Ely // Posted 10 October 2008 at 3:08 pm

I guess where it’s not nice for the people in the post office, i think that such an extreme removal of liberties calls for this kind of reaction. Sometimes it’s necessary to make such a statement just to get listened to.

Leigh Woosey // Posted 10 October 2008 at 3:40 pm

What are the Laws about sending potentially hazardous organic material in the post in Poland? Could the sender get into serious trouble for sending blood samples if they are not in the proper container? Who has checked this to make sure the women won’t be threatened with legal action if they participate?


Qubit // Posted 10 October 2008 at 5:38 pm

I find this story quite difficult to believe as it is so limiting to someone’s rights. I don’t like the idea of it at all and I have to admit I remain unconvinced that something like that would be allowed to happen and could be implemented. I hate to be picky but it would be quite nice to see a first hand source of this announcement or its mention in a newspaper or similar. It is just so disgusting I can’t believe it.

At the same time I agree with commentators that the proposed action seems to send the wrong message. I think it makes the campaign more dismissible as well as causing difficulties to those not directly involved. I understand respecting the wishes of those who are in the situation and what they want but it isn’t something I’d wish to do myself.

Liz // Posted 10 October 2008 at 10:41 pm

I think the law in Poland is more or less irrelevant, if they have illegal abortion then they obviously have opressive legislation, why should we respect that?

Anybody taking direct action should be aware of the risks when they do it , and as everyone seems to be ignoring, you don’t have to actually send blood.

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