Poland Swept Up in Protests as Abortion Ruling Is Enforced

Thousands of abortion-rights advocates took to the streets across Poland after a legal panel made clear that a ruling effectively banning women from terminating pregnancies would come into force.

Resuming some of the largest anti-government rallies since the collapse of communism three decades ago, protesters on Wednesday defied lockdown restrictions on public gatherings as well as freezing temperatures.

Hours earlier, the top court -- stacked with justices appointed by the ruling Law & Justice party -- published a written justification of its October ruling, which tightened one of Europe’s strictest laws on ending pregnancies. That decision, applauded by the government, triggered weeks of protests and an escalation of tensions following brutal police crackdowns on demonstrations.

In an unprecedented move without legal justification, Poland’s government has been stalling the implementation of the verdict for more than three months by withholding publication in the official gazette -- a necessary step for the ruling to come into force. The ruling was published on Wednesday night.

“This is a total insult,” Klementyna Suchanow, a leader of the Women’s Strike movement, told reporters in Warsaw. “Until now we’ve talked about hell being created for women. From now on, we’ll talk about hell for this government.”

Private broadcaster TVN24 showed a street march in Warsaw stretching more than one kilometer (0.6 mile) in length, with smaller ad-hoc rallies staged in Wroclaw, Katowice, Poznan and Szczecin.

Marta Lempart, another leader of the movement, told TOK FM radio Thursday that 51 cities joined the protest within three hours of the ruling being made public.

According to the court’s 154-page clarification by the the Constitutional Tribunal, abortion is admissible if there’s a high probability of irreversible or lethal damage to the fetus, along with danger to the health or life of the mother.

Lempart said the fight wasn’t over, insisting the ruling isn’t legal and can be challenged by individual judges, including the European Union’s top court in Strasbourg.

“This isn’t a legal order -- it’s violence,” she told TOK FM. “We already have a system in place that supports women who want abortion. We’ve seen social attitudes change and it’s a test for many professional groups. It’s a war on all fronts.”

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