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Polish pro-choice protests continue with blockades and red paint

Christian Davies
·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Agencja Gazeta/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Agencja Gazeta/Reuters

Thousands of protesters turned out in towns and cities across Poland on Monday as a political crisis sparked by an impending near total ban on abortion showed no sign of abating.

Drivers created a series of blockades in city centres and thousands of people marched to express their anger at a ruling by Poland’s constitutional tribunal that, if implemented, would ban terminations even in instances where a foetus is diagnosed with a serious and irreversible birth defect.

In Warsaw, activists poured red paint across the Łazieńkowski Bridge. According to the All-Poland Women’s Strike, which is coordinating the actions, protests were held in more than 150 towns and cities in Poland, as well as elsewhere in Europe.

Related: How Poland’s far-right government is pushing abortion underground

“Poles have already forgiven this government so many different scandals, but we won’t forgive this attack on the freedom and dignity of women,” said Julita, 33, who works in finance and attended Monday’s protests in Warsaw. “Forcing us to give birth to sick, deformed foetuses, causing such suffering to mothers and children, is barbarism taking Poland back to the middle ages. A line has been crossed and we are not going to back down.”

Marta Kotwas, a researcher at UCL’s School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies specialising in rightwing populism in Poland, said: “There is so much anger because people can see how the abortion issue is being exploited as a political issue, how women are being used as a bargaining chip by political actors.”

At the weekend protesters in several towns and cities picketed and in some instances disrupted church services, amid signs that the anger felt by many Poles about the the Catholic church’s role in public life was spilling over into open confrontation.

At the Church of the Holy Cross in central Warsaw on Sunday, pro-choice protesters clashed with far-right activists, and one woman was taken away in an ambulance after allegedly being thrown down the steps in front of the church.

The far-right leader Robert Bąkiewicz announced that nationalist groups would create a “national guard” to defend churches from the protesters.

Kotwas said: “We are seeing an alignment between the political authorities, the church and militant rightwing groups. It is really scary.”

There have been signs that social groups not traditionally aligned with Poland’s pro-choice movement are mobilising in support of the protests. On Sunday, farmers in the small northern town of Nowy Dwór Gdański formed a procession of tractors, and on Monday a miners’ union declared that “a state that assumes the role of ultimate arbiter of people’s consciences is heading in the direction of a totalitarian state”.

Related: The price of choice – the fight over abortion in Poland | photo essay

Anger has been exacerbated by reports that doctors wary of breaking the law have already started to cancel scheduled terminations of foetuses with severe defects. On Friday the management of the Bielański hospital in Warsaw issued a directive to its department of gynaecology and obstetrics warning it not to carry out scheduled procedures. A spokesperson for Warsaw’s mayor later clarified that procedures would continue until the tribunal’s ruling comes into force.

In 2016 Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Poland’s ruling rightwing Law and Justice party, declared that “we will strive to ensure that even in pregnancies which are very difficult, when a child is sure to die, strongly deformed, women end up giving birth so that the child can be baptised, buried and have a name”.