Poland Links Covid Woes With Abortion Protests as Ruling Delayed

Poland’s government is stalling the implementation of a high-court ruling that effectively bans abortion amid some of the biggest street demonstrations in decades, while shifting blame for a record coronavirus outbreak on protesters.

Though the political climate is tense, the delay appears to be a tactical slowdown aimed at avoiding a new flareup in demonstrations at a time the government is considering more lockdown measures. Verdicts become binding after they’re printed in a government gazette and the cabinet missed a Nov. 2 deadline to publish a ruling that further tightens one of Europe’s strictest laws on ending pregnancies.

After the number of new Covid-19 infections surged to a record 24,692 in the last 24 hours, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Wednesday that tighter lockdown restrictions Poland was announcing followed days of street protests, which may be creating as much as an additional 5,000 infections a day, according to studies.

“We hoped the protests did not lead to so many new infections, but all the signs in heaven and earth, along with recent data show that they led to more cases,” Morawiecki told a news conference. “I appeal to everyone to stay home” and “those who want to protest, can do so over the internet.”

Poland Links Covid Woes With Abortion Protests as Ruling Delayed

The standoff with the women-led protesters has become a critical moment for the ruling Law & Justice party that’s been taking control over all facets of society in the name of ordinary Poles and Catholic traditions. The party has also managed to label the gay community and increasingly the country’s partners in the European Union as enemies.

While the government has asked people to stay indoors and banned mass gatherings to slow the spread of the coronavirus, that hasn’t stopped pro-choice women from taking to the streets. Law & Justice party has lost about a quarter of its supporters as the tussle over civil liberties drags on.

Delaying Tactics?

The cabinet has in the past delayed publications of rulings it disagreed with, but this time the move appears aimed at avoiding an escalation that could stoke even bigger demonstrations. Last Friday, at least 100,000 people marched through Warsaw and more than half a million protested across the country.

“This delay looks like they’re playing for time and waiting for the protesters to tire,” said Olgierd Annusewicz, a political scientist at Warsaw University. “It looks like grassroots protests aren’t fading, for now.”

President Andrzej Duda has proposed legislation to soften the impact of the court’s verdict in the hopes of finding a political solution.

But his draft law was rejected by a number of ruling-party backbenchers, most of the opposition as well as the protesters, many of who want a return of the nearly three-decade-long status quo on abortion. The ruling party on Tuesday delayed the next parliamentary sitting, during which the bill may be debated, to mid-November.

“There’s discussion about the president’s proposal and it’s good to give yourself some time for dialog and to work out a new position,” Michal Dworczyk, the head of Morawiecki’s chancellery, said about the delay in publishing the verdict.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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