Warsaw, 28 October 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Thousands took to the streets of Polish cities on Wednesday to protest a top court decision that effectively bans abortions, marking a week of daily protests since the ruling.
In the central city of Lodz, Poland’s third largest, some 20,000 people marched, according to broadcaster TVN24. Demonstrations were also held in other major cities, including the capital Warsaw, Gdansk, Wroclaw or Poznan, as well as smaller towns. Further protests are planned for Wednesday evening.
Employees in many Polish cities decided to follow the call by a women’s rights organization to strike in solidarity with the protests.
Local media reported on employees – both women and men – at public institutions, universities and private firms taking a day off work.
At issue is a Thursday ruling of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, which declared it illegal to perform abortions if the foetus has irreversible congenital defects.
The court decided that the law which had allowed such abortions – covering a wide range of conditions from Down’s syndrome to fatal defects – violated the right to life guaranteed in the constitution.
Since almost all legal abortions in Poland last year were performed due to such foetal defects, the court’s decision brings Poland close to a blanket ban on terminations.
Abortion will be legal only if the pregnancy poses a threat to the life or health of the mother or when it is the result of a prohibited act such as rape or incest.
The court’s decisions led to massive street protests in numerous Polish cities, with the ire directed at Poland’s governing party Law and Justice (PiS) and its leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, as many outside PiS see the Constitutional Tribunal as a politicized body under the governing party’s influence.
Some of the ire was also directed at the Catholic Church, whose top representatives in Poland, along with pro-life organizations, welcomed the court’s ruling.
On Sunday, protesters disrupted Masses and spray-painted protest slogans on churches, which met with a vehement response of Poland’s governing majority.
In an address on Tuesday night, Kaczynski said the protesters were trying to “destroy Poland… and end the Polish nation as we know it.” He called upon PiS supporters to “defend the churches at any cost.”
Kaczynski also said that the protesters, by defying Poland’s anti-coronavirus ban on gatherings larger than five people, are “committing a serious crime.”
On Wednesday, Poland reported over 18,800 new cases of the coronavirus, the highest number since the beginning of the pandemic.
Kaczynski, Poland’s most powerful politician, repeated his accusations on Wednesday, when addressing opposition politicians in parliament. They, in turn, blamed Kaczynski.
“The arsonist took the floor and calls for putting out the fire,” lawmaker Cezary Tomczyk from opposition party Civic Platform said in parliament. “What is happening on the streets of Polish cities… is a consequence of your own actions.”
With social tensions growing along with the number of coronavirus cases, the threats to citizens’ rights are ballooning too, Poland’s Human Rights Ombudsman Adam Bodnar said in an interview on Wednesday.
“It seems to me that the government may be inching closer towards [introducing] a state of emergency, i.e. to use this situation to… significantly reduce our rights and citizens’ freedoms,” Bodnar told bezprawnik.pl news site.
The protests brought together people with very different views on abortion – from women’s rights organizations that demand abortion on demand until the 12th week of pregnancy to Catholics who oppose abortion, but do not want to take away the right to terminate a pregnancy in case of a fatal foetal defect.
An unexpected voice of dissent came from Kinga Duda, the daughter and advisor to President Andrzej Duda.
“I cannot come to terms with the consequences that the [Constitutional Tribunal] ruling brings,” Kinga Duda wrote on social media.
In a situation in which a child can die within minutes or hours after birth “the decision on continuing or terminating the pregnancy should be left to the woman,” the president’s daughter wrote.
The Thursday ruling will take effect after it is formally announced in Poland’s Official Journal.