Poles hold more protests over abortion; activist released

Vanessa Gera
Associated Press

Warsaw, Poland – 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 that gives Poland one of the most restrictive laws in Europe.

There were some small scuffles with police, who used tear gas on protesters.

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.

People protest against new anti-abortion laws near the ruling Law and Justice party headquarters in Warsaw, Poland, Friday, Jan. 29, 2021, after the country's top court confirmed its highly divisive ruling that will further tighten the predominantly Catholic nation's strict anti-abortion law.

Meanwhile, one of the leaders of the protest movement, Klementyna Suchanow, was released from police detention after being arrested the night before for entering the grounds of the constitutional court in Warsaw and nailing a poster to a door. The poster, she said, celebrated the recent liberalization of the abortion law in Argentina and expressed hope Poland would be next.

Suchanow told The Associated Press that she was found guilty in a quick trial of various acts, including trespassing and putting nails in the door, and will have to report to a police station weekly and is also banned from being near the court.

The high court is under the political control of the governing right-wing Law and Justice party, which had faced pressure from an ultra-conservative group to further restrict what had already been one of the European Union’s most restrictive abortion laws. Mass nationwide protests have recurred repeatedly since then, growing into the largest protest movement in post-communist Poland.

The court’s judges argued that allowing abortion when there are congenital defects is unconstitutional because the Polish Constitution protects human life.

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.

Protester face police during a protest against a new anti-abortion law in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021.

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 in a vegetative state.

Suchanow and Marta Lempart, the leaders of the Women’s Strike group that has spearheaded street protests against the law, are now looking for inspiration to Argentina.

Suchanow said Polish activists were already in contact with women’s rights activists in the South American nation to learn from their experiences. She said the struggle for a liberalized abortion law will now focus on bringing about deeper social change that she hopes will one day bear fruit when Poland has “a more reasonable government.”

“It will take more time but we are working on that,” said Suchanow, who is also an accomplished writer.

She said the election of President Joe Biden is also giving hope to many of the activists that change is possible.

Irene Donadio, a leading strategist with International Planned Parenthood Federation, a 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 the rule of law more broadly, saying that the erosion of judicial independence had paved the way to the top court’s ruling and that the detention of activists was unlawful.

She accused authorities of trying to “intimidate and terrify” the protesters.