Rage at Polish abortion ruling continues

Protests against a near-total ban on abortion continue across Poland.
Protests against a near-total ban on abortion continue across Poland.

Thousands have taken to the streets of Polish cities, capping a week of protests that started after a court decision that effectively bans abortions.

Protesters gathered in communities large and small on Wednesday including a crowd which massed in front of the Polish parliament in Warsaw before marching in front of the headquarters of governing party Law and Justice (PiS).

Some demanded the Polish government's resignation.

Other cities that saw marches included Gdansk, Krakow, Lodz, Poznan and Wroclaw. There were also protests in front of Polish embassies abroad.

Across the country, workers followed the call of a women's rights organisation to strike in solidarity with the protests.

Local media reported many employees - both women and men - at public institutions, universities and private firms took a day off work.

At issue is a ruling last week by Poland's Constitutional Tribunal, which declared abortions due to irreversible congenital defects, covering a wide range of conditions from Down's syndrome to fatal illnesses, are illegal as they violate the constitutional guarantee of protecting the life of every individual.

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.

Last year, only several dozen such terminations were performed.

The decisions led to massive street protests, with ire directed at PiS and its leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, as many outside the governing party see the Constitutional Tribunal as a politicised body under its influence.

Some of the ire was also directed at the Catholic Church, whose top representatives in Poland, along with pro-life organisations, welcomed the court's ruling.

On Sunday, protesters disrupted Masses and spray-painted protest slogans on churches, which met with a vehement response from Poland's governing majority.

In an address late on Tuesday, Kaczynski said the protesters were trying to "destroy Poland" and called upon PiS supporters to "defend the churches at any cost".

Kaczynski also said the protesters, by defying Poland's anti-coronavirus ban on gatherings with more than five people, are "committing a serious crime".

On Wednesday, Poland reported more than 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.

Human Rights ombudsman Adam Bodnar warned on Wednesday that escalating protests might push the government closer to declaring a coronavirus state of emergency and clamp down on civil liberties.

According to a poll by Kantar, 75 per cent of Poles do not support the decision made by the Constitutional Tribunal.

Australian Associated Press