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Woman stands in front of polcie officers as protesters block a street during a demonstration in Warsaw
Image: Jedrzej Nowicki/Agencja Gazeta/Reuters

Thousands block city streets over Poland's abortion law

October 26, 2020

Activists have vowed to continue their fight against a ruling that amounts to a near-total ban on abortion. Pregnancies that endanger a woman's life and those caused by rape or incest are now the only legal avenues.


Tens of thousands of protesters across almost 50 Polish cities blocked city streets in cars, on bicycles and on foot on Monday on the fifth day of demonstrations against a a supreme court decision to tighten an already strict abortion law in the predominantly Catholic country.

Carrying banners reading "Enough," "hell for women" and "I want choice, not terror", people gathered across the country in defiance of coronavirus restrictions.

"I will be here until the end," Piotr Wybanski, a 31-year-old protester in the capital Warsaw, told Reuters.  "I don't care if it means a week, a month, three months or three years. I will protest here day after day."

Thousands of protesters block streets in Warsaw, protesters carry banners
Protests began last Thursday when the Constitutional Tribunal banned abortions related to fetal defectsImage: Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta/Reuters

Women’s rights activists in Poland said they would not back down and that more protests were planned for the week. 

Marta Lempart, head of the Women's Strike group, said there would be a strike on Wednesday and a protest march on Friday in Warsaw ­ — the seat of the government, the constitutional court and the headquarters of the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party that brought the case to court.

Protests erupted last Thursday when Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal banned abortions related to fetal congenital defects.

The court ruled that an existing law allowing the termination of malformed fetuses was "incompatible" with the constitution.

The ruling ended the most common of the few remaining legal grounds for abortion in the predominantly Catholic country. Abortion is now only permitted in cases where the mother's life is at risk or if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest.

Protesters block traffic
Tens of thousands of protesters across almost 50 Polish cities blocked city streets in cars, on bicycles and on footImage: Jedrzej Nowicki/Agencja Gazeta/Reuters

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

Protesters target churches

Protesters defied Poland’s "red zone" ban on gatherings aimed at preventing further outbreak of the coronavirus, though many did wear facemasks.

On Sunday, thousands of activists disrupted church services across the country, chanting and spraying slogans on walls to protest the ban. Angry crowds carried posters depicting a crucified pregnant woman and gave out protest cards to priests.

Masked protesters carry posters and march through traffic
Poland's ruling amounts to a near-total ban on abortionImage: Kacper Pempel/Reuters

Andrzej Matyja, the leader of a doctor's group, denounced the ruling’s timing during the pandemic. Matyja told local station Radio Zet that the move has resulted in an "irresponsible provoking of people to rallies'' where physical distancing cannot be upheld.

Protesters sit on a city street in smoke to block cars
Activists said they would not back down and that more protests were planned for the weekImage: Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta/Reuters

EU slams ruling

According to health ministry figures, 1,110 legal abortions were carried out in Poland in 2019, mostly due to fetal defects.

Poland already has some of the European Union’s most stringent restrictions on abortion.  

Polish opposition parties, the EU's human rights commissioner as well as international human rights organizations have also condemned the court's decision as violating women's rights.

Poland reports record cases

mvb/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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