Poland to enforce near-total abortion ban, triggering widespread protests

WARSAW, Poland – New anti-government protests erupted in Polish cities Wednesday shortly after the country’s highest court upheld its deeply divisive ruling that will further tighten the predominantly Catholic nation’s strict anti-abortion law.

The unrest shows growing dissatisfaction among many Poles with the right-wing government. Among them, the country was seen as a key European ally of the administration of former US President Donald Trump, but criticized by European officials for the erosion of democracy. It remains to be seen what kind of relationship it can build with the new US administration.

Opposition parties have strongly criticized the Constitutional Court’s move that the judgment will come into force as soon as it is published in the government’s official gazette, later on Wednesday or early Thursday.

Thousands of people gathered outside the courthouse in Warsaw late Wednesday to respond to calls for new protests by women’s groups that led massive demonstrations against the original October 22nd verdict last year for weeks. Protests also took place in many other cities with a heavy police presence.

A protester gestures as people take part in a pro-choice protest in central Warsaw on Wednesday.Wojtek Radwanski / AFP – Getty Images

In Warsaw, protesters later marched through the city center to the headquarters of the ruling party with signs of the leading “women’s strike” group and rainbow flags for LGBT rights. As with the demonstrations last year, they opposed Poland’s ban on gathering.

No violence was reported on either side. Some of last year’s marches resulted in clashes with police.

Further protests were planned on Thursday.

It is widely believed that the ruling right-wing Law and Justice Party has undue influence on the judiciary following reforms that affect the way judges are appointed. The Constitutional Court was the first to have some of its judges appointed the new way in 2016.

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The main opposition party of the Civic Platform condemned the court’s move on Wednesday as a “provocation” through law and justice.

“The government is trying to cover up their incompetence (in dealing with the pandemic) and is doing so in a cynical way,” tweeted Borys Budka, chairman of the Civic Platform.

Another opposition leader, Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz, tweeted Call on the government to “save the economy, not set Poland on fire”.

A protester flares up as she takes part in a protest against the election in central Warsaw on Wednesday as part of a nationwide wave of protests against the almost complete Polish ban on abortion.Wojtek Radwanski / AFP – Getty Images

The court ruling bans the abortion of fetuses with congenital defects, and critics argue that it limits the already stringent law to a near-complete ban on abortion. It was made in response to a motion by over 100 ruling party lawmakers, whose names were not made public.

Termination of pregnancy is only permitted if the woman’s health is endangered or if the pregnancy can be traced back to a criminal offense such as rape or incest.

Congenital defects have so far been the reason for most of the legal abortions in Poland.

Marek Suski, a noted law and justice lawmaker, said work will begin on an entirely new abortion law that will address deadly shortcomings. It would replace the current 1997 law, which is based on a compromise with the Catholic Church and is widely criticized.

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