Protests in Poland as court bans abortion on almost all grounds
In the largely Catholic country, the ruling bans abortions even due to foetal defects, the most common of the few legal grounds for abortion
Warsaw — Activists called for protests across Poland on Friday, despite coronavirus restrictions, after the country’s top court banned almost all grounds for abortion in the largely Catholic country.
The Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling on Thursday to ban abortions due to foetal defects ended the most common of the few legal grounds for abortion, and set Poland further apart from the European mainstream.
Police in Warsaw said they would take “appropriate” action but did not specify if any precautions were being planned ahead of the protests.
Thousands are expected to gather across Poland, including in the cities of Warsaw, Białystok, Kraków, Lublin and Łódź, with calls for protesters to wear masks and maintain social distancing.
Fifteen people were detained late on Thursday and police used pepper spray during a demonstration near the house of Jarosław Kaczyński, the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party leader, after protesters tried to break through a police cordon.
Another gathering was planned there on Friday from 7pm (5pm GMT) and protests were scheduled in nearly a dozen towns across Poland.
“We were hoping there would be no need to go into the streets,” a lawmaker allied with the centrist Civic Coalition grouping, Klaudia Jachira, said. “We feel helplessness, anger.”
Attempts by PiS to curb the already very restrictive abortion rules in recent years have ignited a public outcry, forcing the party to roll back legislative proposals.
Poland will close restaurants and bars for two weeks and limit public gatherings to five people across the country from Saturday, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, after new coronavirus infections hit a daily record of more than 13,600 on Friday.
Under current restrictions, gathering of up to 10 people are allowed in Warsaw and up 25 people in some parts of Poland which have seen fewer coronavirus infections.
PiS lawmakers welcomed the Constitutional Tribunal’s decision but rejected accusations by the opposition that it had influenced it.
The court was among institutions included in the Warsaw government’s sweeping reform of the judiciary in recent years which the European Commission says has led to a politicisation of courts and has undermined democratic norms.
“We are very happy, very satisfied,” Bartłomiej Wróblewski, a PiS lawmaker who had led a group of conservative lawmakers in filing a request to the tribunal that led to Thursday’s ruling, was quoted as saying by PAP news agency.
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.
It was not immediately clear when the government would take the administrative steps needed for the decision to be enforced.
Zaneta, a 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 to have another child.”
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