Thousands of people across Poland ignored the covid-19 restrictions to pour on the streets in protest over a controversial abortion ban. Public opposition began after a court ruling issued on October 22 essentially outlawing abortion.
According to the new law, abortion is only legal in the event of rape, incest, or when the woman’s life is at risk. Countrywide protests have rocked the Catholic-majority country as right-wing groups tried to disrupt them. According to the Guardian, 37 people were arrested on Friday, 35 of whom are directly associated with right-wing nationalists.
The protestors also accuse the government of packing the constitutional courts with loyalists. Despite the threat of prison sentences, protest organizers say they won’t be deterred. Anger towards the political class and clergy is evident with some protestors thronging the streets with a joyful carnivore vibe.
Friday protests culminated in a 100,000 people demonstration that openly defied the covid-19 cap of five people-per-gathering. The figure was according to Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski who arguably understated protest organizers who set their figure at 150,000. Analysts liken the magnitude of the pro-life demonstrations to the 1980s Solidarnosc Movement that resulted in the collapse of the government.
Other demonstrations took place in Poznan, Gdańsk, Sczescin, Kraków, Białystok, Torun, Jasło, and Gorlice drawing over 430,000 based on local media reports. Some opted to protest online using the hashtag #ThisIsWar to express their solidarity with the people marching. Amidst the chants, a red lightning bolt that symbolized the Polish Women’s Strike projected onto the communist-era Palace of Science and Culture.
The protests were sparked by the constitutional court’s decision to outlaw abortion in the event of fetal congenital defects. This is the main reason for the 1,110 legal abortions according to the Polish Health Ministry in 2019. Young demonstrators thronged the headquarters of the government, the ruling party, and the main square of the city. The city center remained the main area of convergence. Police reported confiscating gas containers, flares, and batons.
An army of military police donning red berets made a protective cordon surrounding the Church of the Holy Cross on Krakowskie Przedmieście. This elegant thoroughfare led through the Old Town in Warsaw to its city center.
Behind the police were groups of far-right supporters and activists of Poland’s ruling rightwing Law and Justice party. Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of PiS later called on followers to “defend Polish churches” in a departure from what pro-government television described as “leftist fascism”
In a sign of softening his stance, the Polish President Andrzej Duda submitted a draft amendment to this controversial law legalizing abortion in situations where the baby comes with “lethal defects” right after birth.
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