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OCT 26, 2020  12:50PM

Abortion rights protests block city streets across Poland

RTR North American Financial News

    By Joanna Plucinska and Anna Koper
    WARSAW, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Thousands of Poles blocked city
streets in cars, on bicycles and on foot on Monday on the fifth
day of protests against a Constitutional Court ruling that
amounts to a near-total ban on abortion in the predominantly
Catholic nation.
    Carrying banners reading "Enough", "I won't be your martyr"
and "I want choice, not terror", protesters gathered in several
dozens towns and cities in defiance of coronavirus restrictions.
    "Women are strong," said Malgorzata Rutkowska, 56, standing
in one of Warsaw's main thoroughfares, saying the protests would
continue until the ban was reversed.
    The court ruling last Thursday fuelled an unprecedented
backlash against the powerful Roman Catholic Church in Poland,
which is seen as having close links with the conservative
nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government. 
    It has also heightened criticism of PiS, which came to power
five years ago on a promise to instil more traditional values.
    After the ruling goes into effect, abortion will be banned
in the case of foetal abnormalities. It will be legal only in
the case of rape, incest or a threat to the woman's health.
    Critics say the court has acted on behalf of the party,
which has in the past stepped back from efforts to tighten
abortion rules amid public outcry. PiS denies that. 
    The tribunal has been part of the government's sweeping
overhaul of the justice system which the European Commission
says subverts the rule of law by politicising courts.
    The government has called for a halt to the protests because
of a rising number of coronavirus cases overwhelming the health
care system. 
    Except for isolated scuffles with the police, however, the
protests have been largely peaceful, and in some cases local
media reported police expressing support.
    "What's happening in recent days is absolutely
unacceptable," Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki's chief of
staff, Michal Dworczyk, told private radio RMF. "Pandemic rules
are being broken."
    Poland recorded 10,241 new coronavirus cases on Monday,
compared with a record of 13,632 on Friday.
    Parliament is due to discuss the impact of the court ruling
on the government's aid programme for families with disabled
children on Tuesday.    
    Protests are expected to continue near the house of PiS
leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski in an affluent Warsaw neighbourhood. 

 (Additional reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Writing by
Justyna Pawlak; editing by Nick Macfie)
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