Protesters have disrupted church services across Poland in the latest in a series of demonstrations following a near-total ban on abortion, announced last week.
Sunday marked the fourth day of protests after Poland’s top court ruled on Thursday that abortion due to fetal defects is unconstitutional – meaning that the only circumstances in which termination is legal are in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life in danger.
The ruling sparked furious demonstrations that spilled into the weekend in cities including Warsaw, Lodz, Poznan, Gdansk, Wroclaw and Krakow – in defiance of a ban on gatherings of more than five people due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Protesters stormed Poznan Cathedral, in western Poland, at midday on Sunday, shouting abortion rights slogans such as “Catholics need abortions too” and “We’ve had enough.”
Police were called to the scene, mass was abandoned, and around 30 protesters were given citations by police, according to social media and Poland’s national broadcaster.
Demonstrations also took place in Warsaw, and images emerged on social media showing activists at the altar at the church of Our Lady of Perpetual bearing the slogan: “Let us pray for the right to abortion.”
Hundreds of protesters also gathered outside the Presidential Place on Sunday night.
The ruling by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal removed one of the few remaining grounds for legal termination in the country, which already had some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe.
Abortions due to fetal defects comprised approximately 98% of all legal abortions carried out in Poland in 2019, according to data from the Polish Ministry of Health.
Further protests, including a blockade, are planned around the country on Monday, while a national strike encouraging people to boycott work is scheduled for Wednesday.
On Friday, riot police cracked down on crowds which had gathered near the home of the ruling Law and Justice Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the country’s Deputy Prime Minister, who is widely seen as the de facto decision maker in Poland.
The move to further restrict abortion had been pursued by Poland’s populist government – who won the Presidential election back in July with a narrow margin of 0.4% of the vote – for months.
Abortion rights protest leaders have accused the Law and Justice ruling party of pushing the court to tighten abortion restrictions in order to please the party’s base, and the Church.
Church leaders have denied influencing the change in law: in a statement on Sunday, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki said it “is not the Church that constitutes the law in our Homeland and that it is not bishops who make decisions on the compliance or non-compliance of statutes with the Constitution of the Republic of Poland.”
“For her part, however, the Church cannot cease to defend life, nor can she abandon the proclamation that every human being must be protected from conception until natural death,” he added.
Artur Osinski, Zahid Mahmood, and Sarah Dean contributed reporting.