Poland abortion ruling: Pro-choice supporters stage biggest against government protest in decades

Estimated 100,000 people defy coronavirus restrictions to march in Warsaw

Emily Goddard
Saturday 31 October 2020 11:53 GMT
Thousands protest in Warsaw against Poland’s abortion ban

About 100,000 people marched through Warsaw on Friday in the biggest-ever demonstration in nine days of nationwide protests against a near-total ban on abortion s in Poland.

Pro-choice supporters defied coronavirus restrictions forbidding gatherings of more than five people to take to streets lined with military police.

They marched to the house of the leader of the country’s ruling rightwing Law and Justice party (PiS) carrying black umbrellas, a symbol of abortion rights protests in Poland, and banners reading “I think, I feel, I decide” and “God is a woman”.

As in previous days, protests also took place in other Polish cities.

Small gatherings of far-right activists emerged from side streets in Warsaw firing flares on people taking part in the pro-choice demonstration.

Warsaw police tried to maintain a distance between the groups and much of the march proceeded peacefully.

Around a dozen people were detained, police said.

The protest, one of the largest demonstrations in Poland in years, follows a Constitutional Court ruling outlawing abortions in cases of severe foetal defects on 22 October.

A woman takes part in a protest against the ruling by Poland’s constitutional tribunal that imposes a near-total ban on abortion in Warsaw on 30 October

The bill stripped away the most common of the few legal grounds left for abortion in Poland, with such pregnancies accounting for 96 per cent of terminations in the country.

After the ruling takes effect, women will only be able to access abortion legally in the case of rape, incest or a threat to their health.

Women seeking abortions have already been turned away from Polish hospitals even though the ruling is not yet enforceable, according to abortion rights support group Abortions Without Borders.

Earlier on Friday, president Andrzej Duda attempted to ease tensions by proposing legislation that reintroduced the possibility of abortions due to foetal abnormalities, although only limited to defects that are immediately life-threatening.

Mateusz Morawiecki, Poland’s prime minister, pledged lawmakers would proceed with the legislation quickly, but demonstrators were unimpressed.

“This is an attempt to soften the situation for PiS, but no sane person should fall for it,” Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus, an activist and leftist lawmaker, said.

Further protests were scheduled for Saturday, both in Poland and other European nations.

A demonstration outside the Polish Embassy in London is expected, in a repeat of an angry protest there on Friday night.

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