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Polish police attempt to block women's rights protest

November 29, 2020

Warsaw police tried to break up a women's rights march taking place in the country's capital, with protesters opposing curbs on abortion rights. Poland's abortion law is already one of the most conservative in Europe.

Women's rights protesters took the streets in Warsaw
Image: Omar Marques/AA/picture alliance

Hundreds of protesters gathered in Warsaw and other Polish cities on Saturday to voice their opposition to further proposed restrictions to the country's abortion law.

Police attempted to break up the protests after declaring that the march organizers had not fulfilled legal requirements to inform authorities ahead of time. Authorities also said the demonstration broke rules baring large gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.

Protesters in Warsaw began the march by symbolically changing the name of Roman Dmowski Roundabout to "Women's Rights Roundabout." The activists hope for formal recognition of name — which they say would honor equality rather than Dmowski, a statesman and independence activist who was also an anti-Semite.

Protesters renamed Roman Dmowski Roundabout to "Women's Rights Roundabout"
Protesters symbolically renamed Roman Dmowski Roundabout to "Women's Rights Roundabout"Image: Czarek Sokolowski/AP Photo/picture alliance

Read more: Poland's churches become sites of protest amid abortion row

The red lightningbolt movement

As police blocked the march, protesters were forced onto a busy road. In response to the honks of annoyed drivers, the protesters shouted: "We're sorry for the inconvenience, we have a government to overthrow."

A police officer used tear gas against opposition lawmaker Barbara Nowacka during the demonstration. Borys Budka, the leader of the centrist Civic Platform party explained that Nowacka had been there "in defense of peacefully protesting women."

A women wearing a mask with the movement's red lightning logo
A women wearing a mask with the movement's red lightning logoImage: Grzegorz Banaszak/Zuma Wire/Zumapress/picture alliance

A mother of two teenage girls told the Associated Press that she was taking part in the march "for my daughters."

Read more: Opinion: Abortion ruling is a nightmare for Polish women

Protesters called for a relaxation of the strongly Catholic country's strict abortion law and for the resignation of the conservative government. Many protesters carried signs saying "Strajk Kobiet" (Women's Strike).

Many signs, and protesters' faces, also depicted a red lightning bolt which has become the logo of the movement.

102 years of women's suffrage

Similar marches also took place in Krakow, Gdansk and other cities in part also to celebrate the 102nd anniversary of women's suffrage in the country.

On October 22, the Polish Constitutional Court issued a ruling banning abortions of fetuses with congenital defects, even if the fetus would not survive birth. The move sparked widespread protests, with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the street in Poland's largest protest movement since the fall of Communism in the country.

Poland's conservative government has also targetted LGBT+ people with hostile rhetoric
Poland's conservative government has also targetted LGBT+ people with hostile rhetoricImage: Czarek Sokolowski/AP Photo/picture alliance

The government has not yet implemented the court ruling, which is seen as a win for the women's rights movement.

Poland's abortion laws were already some of the strictest in the European Union, allowing for abortion only in a limited number of cases. The rules were negotiated in the 1990s among politicians and the Catholic church.

ab/rs (AP, dpa)