Otago Daily Times
Abortion ruling prompts protests
WARSAW: Protests gathered across Poland on Thursday (local time) after the Constitutional Tribunal ruled abortion due to foetal defects was unconstitutional, banning the most common of the few legal grounds for ending a pregnancy in the largely Catholic country.
After the ruling goes into effect, abortion will be permissible in Poland only in the case of rape, incest or a threat to the mother’s health and life, which make up only about 2% of legal terminations conducted in recent years.
The development pushes Poland further away from the European mainstream, as the only EU country apart from tiny Malta to severely restrict access to abortion.
‘‘[A provision that] legalises eugenic practices in the field of the right to life of an unborn child and makes the right to life of an unborn child dependent on his or her health . . . is inconsistent . . . with the constitution,’’ tribunal head Julia Przylebska said.
Hundreds marched towards the house of governing party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski on
Thursday night, some carrying candles and signs that read ‘‘torture’’. Most wore face masks to comply with coronavirus pandemic restrictions.
Police in riot gear had cordoned off the house. The Warsaw Police said on Twitter it reacted with pepper spray and physical force after protesters threw stones and tried to push through the police line.
Small protests also took place in Krakow, Lodz and Szczecin.
‘‘It’s sick that such controversial things are being decided at a time when the entire society lives in fear [of the pandemic] and is afraid to go into the streets,’’ Marianna Dobkowska (41) said.
Protests in Warsaw dispersed early yesterday, activists calling for further gatherings that evening.
Conservative values have played a growing role in public life in Poland since the nationalist Law and Justice party came into power five years ago. Curbing access to abortion has been a longstanding ambition of the party but it has stepped back from previous legislative proposals amid a public backlash.
‘‘Today Poland is an example for Europe, it’s an example for the world,’’ Kaja Godek, a member of the ‘‘Stop Abortion’’ public initiative, said.
Women’s rights and opposition groups reacted with dismay.
‘‘The worstcase scenario that could have come true has come true. It is a devastating sentence that will destroy the lives of many women and many families,’’ lawyer Kamila Ferenc, who works with an NGO helping women denied abortion, said.
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic called it a ‘‘sad day for women’s rights’’. — Reuters