As Poland Abortion Law Takes Effect, Women Protest

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As Poland Abortion Law Takes Effect, Women Protest

WARSAW—Thousands of women took to the streets of Polish cities after an extensive ban on abortion took effect, three months after a court ruled that it was unconstitutional to terminate pregnancies because of fetal abnormalities.

A rights group called Women’s Strike led crowds of people into the streets of Warsaw, Krakow and other cities as the law took effect at midnight, after it was upheld by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal. The ruling, more than 200 pages long, said that allowing abortion because of congenital defects violated the Polish constitution, which protects all human life.

Further protests are planned this week, reflecting broader concern among younger Poles over the conservative policies of Poland’s government, which is allied with the Catholic Church and has tried to tighten Poland’s already-strict abortion laws since coming to power in 2015. Similar protests last fall drew tens of thousands of people in Warsaw alone.

Many demonstrators say they are concerned over the way the ruling Law and Justice party previously purged members of the Constitutional Tribunal and replaced them with conservative judges, drawing criticism from the European Union and elsewhere.

Anita Czerwińska, spokeswoman for the Law and Justice party, said it is still studying the court’s judgment before commenting. The party has said that the court is responsive to the wishes of Polish voters, who have repeatedly handed Law and Justice majorities in Poland’s parliament.

Marta Lempart, leader of the Women’s Strike group, said late Wednesday that the new restrictions on abortion were an attack on the freedoms of all Poles.

“This is the fight for freedom, for me, for my daughters and for all women, that motivated me to come here,” said a protester, Joanna Warchulska, 43 years old. “I think that there are certain things that demand that we get up from our sofas and to take to the streets.”

Poland already had some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, allowing it in only a few cases, including when doctors found evidence of congenital abnormalities or other damage in fetuses.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, around 150,000 Poles traveled abroad each year to terminate pregnancies. Fewer than 2,000 legal abortions take place in Poland each year, experts say, with 98% of them performed because of abnormalities detected in the fetus.

The new law only allows abortions in cases of rape, incest or when the health of the women is at stake.

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