Protesters in Poland vow to fight abortion ban

Women’s rights advocates and their allies in Poland vowed on Thursday to continue fighting against a near-total ban on abortion, calling it a human rights violation and a sign that the country is moving backwards.

The Constitutional Court ruling, which came into effect abruptly on Wednesday evening, tightened Poland’s already restrictive laws to further ban abortions for fetal abnormalities. It immediately prompted thousands of outraged Poles to take to the streets to express their defiance, despite limits on public gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This decision is a declaration of war,” protest organizer Marta Lempart said in a phone interview on Thursday.

When the decision was first announced in October, it sparked a month of protests on a scale not seen since the collapse of communism in 1989.

It is unclear why the government, after delaying implementation of the decision for months in the face of protests, suddenly decided to force it into effect on Wednesday. The move came as Poland grapples with the economic repercussions of the pandemic, a partial lockdown and a slow rollout of vaccines.

The action could pose political risks for the ruling Law and Justice party, judging by polls which showed an overwhelming majority oppose the ban.

More protests are planned this week and on Thursday evening hundreds of people marched in Warsaw under a heavy police presence. Among the protesters was Nadia Klos, a member of the Queer Tour, an LGBT group.

“The way they are forcing change in the middle of the pandemic is amazing,” Ms Klos said. “It is an attempt to take away the rights of half of the citizens by referring to religion, when it is about power.”

Another protester, Iwonna Kowalska, with a group called Polish Grandmothers, said the decision was “a step backwards”.

“That’s what the Communists would do too,” Ms Kowalska said. “They would wait for a time when everything would fall apart and then make changes.”

The protest became tense early Friday when police told 100 or more protesters they had to show identification before they could leave the area, scene video show. Officers appeared to block protesters, TV coverage showed, dragging many people away. Local news outlets reported a number of arrests, although the precise number was not immediately clear.

The Constitutional Court, the highest court in the land, which issued the ruling, explained its decision by saying that “human life has value at every phase of its evolution, and as value, the source of which is found in constitutional laws, it should be protected by legislators.

Far-right lawmakers and supporters of the ban hailed the legal enforcement of the decision.

Abortion due to fetal abnormalities should be banned, said Beata Kempa, a Polish member of the European Parliament, adding that she had been upset by discussions in the European Parliament on the issue. “No one mentioned a child’s right to life.”

Anita Czerwinska, spokeswoman for the Law and Justice party, described the protests as “a cynical battle against the government”.

Even before the court’s decision, Polish abortion laws were among the most restrictive in Europe, allowing termination of pregnancy only in cases of rape or incest, threat to the life of a women and fetal anomalies. In practice, most legal abortions – 1,074 out of 1,100 performed in 2019 – resulted from fetal abnormalities.

The right-wing Law and Justice party tried to implement a total abortion ban in 2016 and 2018, but backed down after mass protests. This time the government introduced the ban using the court, which it effectively took over in 2016 as part of a judicial overhaul that was criticized at home and abroad.

The court’s decision is final.

“The only possible action is at the international level, through the European Court of Human Rights and UN committees,” said Adam Bodnar, the country’s human rights official. “At the national level, the only way to reverse this decision is to change the government.”

The next elections are scheduled for 2023.

The decision has a very personal dimension for millions of Polish women.

“Women are really scared of getting pregnant right now,” said Dominika Sitnicka, a reporter for OKO.press, a media outlet that conducts research and analysis. “Yesterday wasn’t just a symbol of something. It was the apocalypse.

As a result of the ban, Polish women will be forced to “travel abroad or have clandestine abortions – for those who can afford it”, said Dunja Mijatovic, the council’s human rights commissioner. from Europe.

Although Polish doctors who perform the procedure for fetal abnormalities now face up to three years in prison, lawyers are calling on them to defy the ban.

“Everyone has a choice,” said Ms. Lempart, one of the protest organizers. “Will you be an officer of the system or will you be an upstanding citizen? We speak to every doctor who will challenge this decision: we are with you and we will help you.

Abortion has long been a contentious issue in Poland, a staunchly Catholic country, and the current debate has highlighted a societal divide between traditional religious values ​​and more secular ones.

The Polish word for “apostasy”, or the official procedure for leaving the church, is trending on Google, while the level of support for the institution among young Poles has reached an all-time low.

The government has tried to frame the abortion debate as an attack on the Church and therefore an attack on the people, said Edit Zgut, a member of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a move that could further polarize a already divided society.

Many Polish women say they are tired of being used as pawns in the culture wars.

Julka Tomiczek went out on Thursday to demonstrate in Warsaw with her daughter and her companion. She wore a black face mask with a red thunderbolt, a symbol for some.

“What brought me here was revolt, dissension, rage,” she said. “I don’t agree with going back to the Middle Ages. I don’t accept sadistic decisions.

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