Police cracked down on protesters in Warsaw on Monday, carrying away abortion-rights protesters as demonstrations against the government and the church enter their 20th day.
The protests were sparked in October by the tightening of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation’s abortion laws and have seen the largest anti-government crowds since the fall of communism in 1989.
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken part in peaceful protests across Poland since a constitutional court decided to ban abortion even in cases of fetal defects.
The Catholic church is against abortion and Poland already has some of the strictest termination laws in Europe. Most of the limited number of terminations allowed were in cases of fetal defects.
AP reports that on Monday the protesters were sitting in the street in front of the education ministry demanding the firing of the new education minister. A few hundred protesters then marched through downtown Warsaw chanting anti-government slogans when the police moved in to disperse them.
Public gatherings have been banned as part of Covid-19 restrictions and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has been appealing to people to stay home and express their anger on the internet.
As the rallies grew, President Andrzej Sebastian Duda backed down and proposed a new bill that would make abortion legal in case of some fetal defects.
When the ruling takes effect at an unspecified date, abortion will be permitted only when a pregnancy endangers a woman’s health, or results from crimes like rape or incest.
Despite the pandemic, women and men across the country have blocked roads and stormed churches. In response, right-wing groups have organised to protect the churches, at times clashing with demonstrators.
Journalist Kaja Puto told Reuters, “Protesters are frustrated with the omnipotence of the Catholic church in Poland. According to the Pew research centre, Poland is the fastest secularising country in the world.”