Thousands protest against ruling imposing restrictions on abortion in Poland

People protest against imposing further restrictions on abortion law, near the house of Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Warsaw, Poland.

Thousands of people protested across Poland on Friday in defiance of tight coronavirus restrictions, following Thursday’s ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal that imposes a near-total ban on abortion in the predominantly Roman Catholic country.

The court announced that abortions due to foetal defects were unconstitutional, ending the most common of the few legal grounds for abortion, and setting Poland further apart from the European mainstream.

Carrying banners that read, “You have blood on your hands” and “This is War”, thousands gathered near the house of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party leader, in an affluent Warsaw neighbourhood.

For the second night running, a cordon of police clad in riot gear blocked them from reaching his house, using loudspeakers asking protesters to disperse and respect restrictions on public gathering.

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Marchers played the “Imperial March” from Star Wars as well as Italian partisan song “Bella Ciao” and Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)” as they walked for kilometers (miles) through Warsaw.

“I was initially scared but I figured, too bad if I catch the coronavirus. I’m scared for my daughter, but I think we don’t have a choice. Someone took this away from us against our will,” said Emilia Gwiazda, 46, who attended protests in Warsaw.

Thousands also took to the streets in the cities of Poznan, Wroclaw and Krakow, footage from private broadcaster TVN showed.

“Women are not respected in this country. No one is listening to us,” said Magda, 34, who showed up to a protest in the northern city of Gdynia.

Attempts by PiS to curb the already very restrictive abortion rules in recent years had ignited a public outcry, forcing the party to roll back legislative proposals.

More protests were planned for Monday, following a tightening of pandemic restrictions due to come into force on Saturday and including a ban on public gathering by more than five people. On Friday, public gatherings were officially capped at 10.

Poland will also close restaurants and bars from Saturday, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, after new coronavirus infections hit a daily record of more than 13,600 on Friday.

Protesters in Warsaw launched flares but the demonstrations were largely peaceful, unlike on Thursday when some threw stones and the police used pepper spray.

PiS lawmakers welcomed the Constitutional Tribunal’s decision but rejected accusations by the opposition that it had influenced it.

Conservative values have taken a more prominent role in public life since PiS took power five years ago, and access to abortion has declined even without legislative curbs as some doctors refused to perform the procedure on religious grounds.

After the tribunal’s decision goes into effect, women will be able to terminate a pregnancy only in the case of rape or incest or a threat to their health.

Zaneta, a 30-year-old woman from a small town in southern Poland who carries an extremely rare genetic disorder, terminated a pregnancy on Tuesday after the baby was diagnosed with severe malformations.

The ruling came as a shock to her.

“I had no idea you could do that,” she said. “This ends any chances for me to have another child.”

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