Ordinary Poles were outraged this week as the nation’s top court backed a controversial near-total ban on abortion.
Since the ruling, noisy demonstrations have been filling city streets in defiance of a ban on gatherings of more than five people due to the coronavirus pandemic.
From Thursday, abortion is now allowed only in cases of rape or incest or when the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother.
Thousands of people gathered outside the constitutional court building in the capital Warsaw, defying lockdown restrictions, to protest against the decision.
Angry demonstrators marched through the city centre to the ruling party’s headquarters with “Women’s Strike” signs and pro-LGBT rainbow flags.
Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski said more than 100,000 people were on the capital’s streets, while protest organisers put the figure at 150,000.
Across the country, nearly half a million people rallied at more than 400 demonstrations against the ban, according to local media.
Online supporters are using the tag #ThisIsWar to show solidarity with those organising ongoing street protests.
Only around 2,000 legal terminations are performed in staunchly Catholic Poland each year but an estimated 200,000 women have abortions illegally or travel abroad for the procedure.
It is the chief reason for the terminations that the law and the nation’s conscience is grappling with.
In 2019, 98% of abortions carried out in Poland were due to foetal congenital defects.
However, on Wednesday the constitutional court issued a justification of a ruling in October that said aborting foetuses with congenital defects violated the constitution.
The court said terminations must only take place in cases where there is a risk to the woman’s life or where a crime has taken place, such as rape or incest.
The October decision prompted almost two weeks of huge protest rallies, some of which led to clashes with police, and now the court’s ruling is having a similar effect.
Poland’s governing party has strong ties to the country’s powerful Catholic Church, which supports the ruling, but opposition parties have strongly criticised the new law, calling it “a provocation”.
“The government is trying to cover up its incompetence in dealing with the pandemic and is doing that in a cynical way,” an opposition party leader Borys Budka tweeted.
Another opposition leader, Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz, tweeted to urge the government to “save the economy, don’t set Poland ablaze”.
On Friday, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki urged protesters not to go out on the streets as he announced further steps to try to limit the spread of Covid-19.
He said, “I understand your anger, but I urge you to stay at home, especially for the sake of seniors.”