Sunday marked the fourth day of protests after Poland’s top court ruled on Thursday the abortion law which says that abortion due to fetal defects is unconstitutional — meaning that the only circumstances in which termination is legal are in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life in danger.
Sunday mass disrupted by pro-choice protesters
Protesters stormed Poznan Cathedral, in western Poland, at midday on Sunday, shouting abortion rights slogans such as ‘Catholics need abortions too’ and ‘We’ve had enough’.
Police came to the scene, mass was abandoned, and around 30 protesters received citations by police, according to social media and Poland’s national broadcasters.
Demonstrations also took place in Warsaw, and images emerged on social media showing activists at the altar at the church of Our Lady of Perpetual bearing the slogan: ‘Let us pray for the right to abortion’.
Polish abortion law
The ruling by the Constitutional Court closed one of the few remaining legal grounds for abortion in Poland. It means abortion is only valid in cases of rape or incest, or to protect the mother’s life.
The court’s decision stemmed from a legal challenge by MPs from the ruling nationalist Law and Justice party last year.
Poland’s abortion laws were already among the strictest in Europe, with an estimated 100.000 women seeking a termination abroad each year to get around the tight restrictions.
Protests across the country
The ruling sparked furious demonstrations that spilled into the weekend in cities including Warsaw, Lodz, Poznan, Gdansk, Wroclaw and Krakow — in defiance of a ban on gatherings of more than five people due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Priests had to stop the service, then protesters sat on the floor before police officers arrived.
In a park in Krakow, black underwear was hung up on lines between trees, while in Lodz, there was a protest in front of the city’s cathedral, where people called for a separation of church and state. Slogans such as “women’s hell” and “unlimited abortions” were daubed on church walls in Warsaw.
At one prominent church, young men from far-right and nationalist groups stood in front of the entrance, blocking female activists from entering.
Further protests, including a blockade, will take place around the country on Monday, while a national strike encouraging people to boycott work- for Wednesday.
The reaction of the church
Abortion rights protest leaders have accused the Law and Justice ruling party of pushing the court to tighten abortion restrictions in order to please the party’s base, and the Church.
“I’m here today because it annoys me that in a secular country the church decides for me what rights I have, what I can do and what I’m not allowed to do,” one 26-year-old protester, Julia Miotk, told Reuters news agency.
Church leaders deny influencing the change in law: in a statement on Sunday, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki says “it is not the Church that constitutes the law in our Homeland and that it is not bishops who make decisions on the compliance or non-compliance of statutes with the Constitution of the Republic of Poland.”
“For her part, however, the Church cannot cease to defend life, nor can she abandon the proclamation that every human being must be protected from conception until natural death,” he added.
Abortion is a deeply divisive issue in Poland. A 2014 opinion poll by the CBOS research centre finds that 65% of Poles are against abortion, 27% see abortion as acceptable and 8% are unsure. However, recent opinion polls suggest a clear majority is against making the abortion law stricter.
Here’s a video depicting the protests held across the country: