A year ago, mass protests in Poland defeated a new abortion ban. But the ruling party, supported by the church, continues to cut reproductive rights – leaving people at the mercy of the black market. By Alex Cocotas

Barbara Nowacka first had an inkling that something exceptional was happening on the morning of the protests. It was October 2016, and a journalist she knew, a conservative, called to ask how it was looking. She told him she had no idea what was going to happen. The journalist told her that his two daughters had gone to school that morning dressed in black. Perhaps, Nowacka thought, this could be big.

A ban on abortion in Poland had been put forward in parliament six months earlier, and Nowacka, a leftwing politician and long-time social activist, was a leading figure in the movement to oppose it. Nationwide protests had been scheduled for 3 October, but like most people, she had little hope that they would succeed. Perhaps they would get a nice crowd, a little media coverage; but it would ultimately be a gesture. The law would pass.

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