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Poles rally for abortion rights in Warsaw

Mass protests began last week when Poland's Constitutional Court ruled that an existing law allowing the abortion of damaged foetuses was "incompatible" with the constitution.

Demonstrators protest with banners and placards against tightening Poland's already restrictive abortion law in Warsaw on 28 October 2020. Picture: AFP.

WARSAW - Protesters from across Poland on Friday defied coronavirus restrictions to demonstrate in Warsaw against a court ruling that would ban almost all abortions.

"We're prepared to fight till the end," Marta Lempart, co-founder of the Women's Strike movement, told reporters on Friday.

Security was tight - with both military police and regular officers on-site - following clashes between protesters and far-right activists during nine consecutive days of protests.

More than 400,000 people took part in mostly peaceful nationwide demonstrations on Wednesday and organisers had said they hoped many people would travel to the capital for Friday's protest.

Women's rights groups organising the protest face possible prosecution since any gatherings of more than five people are currently banned under the coronavirus rules.

Smaller rallies were also expected in dozens of other Polish cities including Krakow and Wroclaw, as well as abroad in Barcelona, Vienna and elsewhere.

Mass protests began last week when Poland's Constitutional Court ruled that an existing law allowing the abortion of damaged foetuses was "incompatible" with the constitution.

Protesters have focused their anger on the governing ultra-Catholic Law and Justice (PiS) party, whose lawmakers asked the court to rule on the provision.

Poland, a traditionally devout Catholic country of 38 million people, already has one of the most stringent abortion laws in Europe.

There are fewer than 2,000 legal abortions every year, although women's groups estimate some 200,000 women abort either illegally or abroad.

Once published in the official journal, the constitutional court ruling would ban all abortions except in cases of rape and incest or when the life of the mother is in danger.

PRESIDENT'S DRAFT AMENDMENT

The government has defended the verdict, saying it will halt "eugenic abortions", but human rights groups have said it would force women to carry non-viable pregnancies.

On Friday, the president proposed a draft amendment to the abortion law that Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said "solves the dilemmas and concerns recently raised by the public".

The bill submitted to parliament by President Andrzej Duda would ban abortion in the case of damaged foetuses unless medical tests showed a high probability that the baby would be born dead or with a terminal illness or defect.

Liberal opposition lawmaker Katarzyna Lubnauer said the amendment was "unacceptable".

"This is a proposal along the lines of: I stole 100 zloty (20 euros, $25) from you, but I'll return 50," she told the news channel TVN24.

Government leaders have slammed the protests as a form of "barbarism" and "vandalism" after some demonstrations against Catholic churches.

Far-right groups have called on Warsaw residents to "defend" churches during Friday's protest, although organisers have said they do not plan to target religious institutions again.

Poland's premier warned of the consequences of holding demonstrations during an epidemic, as the health ministry announced a record 21,629 new infections over 24 hours.

"Let us not allow the irresponsible behaviour of some to harm older people, those weakest, the units involved in fighting the epidemic," Morawiecki wrote on Facebook.

The protests are due to continue next week.