Activists converge on Warsaw for 'biggest' protests against abortion ruling

by Reuters
Friday, 30 October 2020 14:09 GMT

A woman takes part in a protest against the ruling by Poland's Constitutional Tribunal that imposes a near-total ban on abortion, in Gdansk, Poland October 28, 2020. REUTERS/Jadwiga Figula

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By Marcin Goclowski and Joanna Plucinska

WARSAW, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Protesters converged on Warsaw from across Poland on Friday for what police said would likely be the biggest demonstrations yet against a court ruling that amounted to a near-total ban on abortion.

Tens of thousands of activists have mounted daily rallies, marching through cities and disrupting church services in the predominantly Catholic country since last week's Constitutional Court decision.

"We expect these to be the biggest protests since the verdict," Warsaw police spokesman Sylwester Marczak said. "Considering how big they can be, we always use the support of the police from other garrisons."

Military police began erecting barriers near the parliament and in other parts of the capital.

Protest group Strajk Kobiet (Women's Strike) said on its Facebook page demonstrators would gather in three locations in the city centre from 1600 GMT.

The movement's leader, Marta Lempart, told activists to report any attacks and to resist any attempt to prosecute or fine them for taking part. "We are doing nothing wrong by protesting and going out on the streets," she told a news conference.

Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said this week the rallies could help the coronavirus to spread. Last week the government banned gatherings of more than five people, saying it was part of part of its efforts against COVID-19.

Demonstrations - mostly peaceful - have turned into an outpouring of anger against the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, with protesters blaming it and the powerful Roman Catholic Church for the ruling.

FIVE CHARGED

Five women have been charged with organising an illegal protest in the town of Police, where some 850 people gathered on Thursday, regional police spokeswoman Alicja Sledziona said on Friday.

The Court decision on Thursday last week outlawed abortions due to foetal defects - ending the most common of the few legal grounds left for abortion in Poland and setting the country further apart from the European mainstream.

After it goes into effect, women will only be able to terminate a pregnancy legally in the case of rape, incest or a threat to their health.

The Catholic Church has said that while it opposes abortion, it did not push the government or the court to increase restrictions. It called for people to talk and refrain from violence this week, but declined to comment further on Friday.

Catholic anti-abortion group Ordo Iuris on Friday reiterated its support for the court ruling and opposition to the protesters, and called for calm.

"As an institute, we must condemn any violence, no matter in which way it is perpetrated. Nothing justifies hurting another person even in the face of such social unrest," spokesman Maciej Grajewski said.

On Friday, the number of daily new infections in Poland hit an all-time high of 21,629. The overall death toll rose to 5,351. (Reporting by Marcin Goclowski, Pawel Florkiewicz, Justyna Pawlak, Joanna Plucinska and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Andrew Heavens)