WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poles took to the streets of Warsaw, Gdansk and other cities for a third night of protests Friday, after a near-total abortion ban took effect leaving Poland with one of the most restrictive laws in Europe.
The constitutional court ruled in October to ban abortions in cases of fetal disorders, even severe and fatal ones, and the ruling finally became law on Wednesday. That triggered a new eruption of the mass demonstrations that began Oct. 22 and which have morphed into the largest protest movement in Poland in the three decades since communism fell.
The ruling was made by a court under the political control of the ruling right-wing party, Law and Justice, which had faced pressure from ultra-conservative lobbyists to further restrict what had already been one of the European Union's most restrictive laws.
Those who favored the restriction say they are trying to preserve human life, and have often argued that they want to prevent the abortion of fetuses with Down syndrome.
Opponents call the law draconian, noting that it forces women to carry to term even fetuses with lethal defects or with disorders so considerable they could live their entire lives severely disabled or even in a vegetative state.
Tensions have grown increasingly between protesters and police, who were out in large numbers Friday.
Marta Lempart, one of the leaders of the Women’s Strike group that has spearheaded street protests against the law, encouraged protesters in Warsaw to keep up their struggle. She pointed to the example of Argentina, which recently liberalized its abortion law after years of failed attempts.
“What we have now is a stage” of the larger struggle, she said.
Women’s Strike said Friday that 14 people were detained Thursday, on the second night of protests — which were held despite a prohibition on public gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Warsaw police said they had detained several people for entering the grounds of the Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw.
Among those held was Klementyna Suchanow, an author and activist who along with Lempart is one of the key leaders of Women’s Strike. She was released on Friday evening, according to Polish media reports.
Irene Donadio, a leading strategist with International Planned Parenthood Federation, an international group promoting reproductive health and choice, said her organization is appalled that such a restrictive law could be imposed in a European Union member-state.
She called it a “tragedy” not only for women but for rule of law more broadly, noting that the erosion of judicial independence had paved the way to the top court's ruling and that the detention of activists was also unlawful.
She accused authorities of trying to “intimidate and terrify” the protesters.
The only remaining legal justifications for abortion under Polish law are if the woman’s life or health is at risk or if a pregnancy results from rape or incest. To date, about 98% of all legal abortions in the country — of which there were 1,110 in 2019 — were performed on the grounds of fetal malformations.