Warsaw Grinds to a Halt as Women Protest Abortion Curbs

Women’s groups are ramping up protests in Poland after the country’s top court practically banned abortion.

With signs stating that “We’re Furious” and “This Is War,” mostly women protesters blocked key roads and bridges on Monday afternoon, grinding traffic to a halt in Warsaw as well as other Polish cities. The demonstrations come after the Constitutional Tribunal last week tightened what was already one of Europe’s most restrictive laws on terminating pregnancies, ruling on a case brought forward by ruling-party lawmakers and their allies.

The blockades follow mostly peaceful weekend marches, in which tens of thousands protested in defiance of growing curbs on gatherings imposed as coronavirus infections spike to a record high. They also mark a new high in terms of civil disobedience against the five-year rule of the Law & Justice party, which has tried to remodel Poland along its nationalist values.

The Nationwide Women Strike activist group, which ordered the street blockades, also called on protesters to not show up for work on Wednesday and to march in large numbers in the capital on Friday.

“People are starting to organize themselves,” Marta Lempart from the Women Strike group told Radio Zet on Monday. Protests will be “built up gradually” to encompass not only pro-choice voters but also those “who are sick with everything that’s going on.”

Demonstrations have picketed the top court, government buildings, the residence of Jaroslaw Kaczynski -- the ruling party boss and architect of Poland’s populist turn -- as well as churches during Sunday mass. Police said there were 226 illegal assemblies over the last two days. It handed out 142 fines and referred 281 incidents to the courts.

Warsaw Grinds to a Halt as Women Protest Abortion Curbs

Senior ruling party officials said the gatherings during the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic may trigger a “biological megadeath,” as it limited gatherings to a maximum of five people as of Saturday.

Poland’s high court is dominated by judges appointed by the ruling Law & Justice party and its mandate has been questioned by the European Union following a series of contested judicial overhauls by the government.

The tribunal said that a 27-year-old rule allowing the termination of pregnancies due to damaged fetuses was unconstitutional. More than 95% of legal abortions in the EU’s largest eastern member are performed due to damaged fetuses, according to the Nationwide Women Strike.

The verdict means that Polish women can’t get abortions even when the fetus doesn’t stand a chance to live outside the womb, which activists have said amounted to “torture.” Demonstrations mushroomed and some actions over weekend turned violent, with police using tear gas. Several pro-choice protests teamed up with other disenfranchised groups, such as farmers.

“The dynamics of these protests has surprised the government,” said Anna Materska-Sosnowska, a political scientist at Warsaw University. “It’s not just about abortion and a feeling of being ignored, the protests coincide with widespread frustration with the government over its battle with Covid.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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