Gridlock in Poland as thousands protest abortion ban

Warsaw (AFP) –


Thousands of people took to the streets of Poland for a fifth straight day of protests against a constitutional court ruling that would impose a near-total ban on abortion in the EU country.

Protesters in Warsaw occupied several key roundabouts in the city centre to block traffic and chanted anti-government slogans, brandishing the protest symbol -- a red lightning bolt.

There were similar demonstrations across Poland, a day after rarely seen protests targeting churches in what is still a predominantly Catholic country.

Poland already has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the European Union and many women travel abroad to terminate their pregnancies.

But Poland's constitutional court last week ruled in favour of further restrictions, stating that an existing law allowing the abortion of damaged foetuses was "incompatible" with the constitution.

The verdict is in line with the position of Poland's powerful Catholic Church and the governing nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party.

It has ignited anger against the ruling party, which is already under pressure over its handling of the pandemic and reforms that critics say undermine the independence of the judiciary.

Opponents of the ruling say it puts women's lives at risk by forcing them to carry unviable pregnancies but supporters insist it will stop the abortion of foetuses diagnosed with Down Syndrome.

There are already fewer than 2,000 legal abortions per year in Poland and the vast majority of those are carried out due to damaged foetuses.

But women's groups estimate that up to 200,000 procedures are performed illegally or abroad.

Another symbol of the protests is the coat hanger -- a reference to illegal abortions.

The ruling cannot be appealed but only comes into force if it is published in the journal of laws.