Abortion rights protests block city streets across Poland

Joanna Plucinska and Anna Koper
·2 min read

By Joanna Plucinska and Anna Koper

WARSAW, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Thousands of Poles blocked city streets in cars, on bicycles and on foot on Monday on the fifth day of protests against a Constitutional Court ruling that amounts to a near-total ban on abortion in the predominantly Catholic nation.

Carrying banners reading "Enough", "I won't be your martyr" and "I want choice, not terror", protesters gathered in several dozens towns and cities in defiance of coronavirus restrictions.

"Women are strong," said Malgorzata Rutkowska, 56, standing in one of Warsaw's main thoroughfares, saying the protests would continue until the ban was reversed.

The court ruling last Thursday fuelled an unprecedented backlash against the powerful Roman Catholic Church in Poland, which is seen as having close links with the conservative nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government.

It has also heightened criticism of PiS, which came to power five years ago on a promise to instil more traditional values.

After the ruling goes into effect, abortion will be banned in the case of foetal abnormalities. It will be legal only in the case of rape, incest or a threat to the woman's health.

Critics say the court has acted on behalf of the party, which has in the past stepped back from efforts to tighten abortion rules amid public outcry. PiS denies that.

The tribunal has been part of the government's sweeping overhaul of the justice system which the European Commission says subverts the rule of law by politicising courts.

The government has called for a halt to the protests because of a rising number of coronavirus cases overwhelming the health care system.

Except for isolated scuffles with the police, however, the protests have been largely peaceful, and in some cases local media reported police expressing support.

"What's happening in recent days is absolutely unacceptable," Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki's chief of staff, Michal Dworczyk, told private radio RMF. "Pandemic rules are being broken."

Poland recorded 10,241 new coronavirus cases on Monday, compared with a record of 13,632 on Friday.

Parliament is due to discuss the impact of the court ruling on the government's aid programme for families with disabled children on Tuesday.

Protests are expected to continue near the house of PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski in an affluent Warsaw neighbourhood. (Additional reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Writing by Justyna Pawlak; editing by Nick Macfie)