A nationwide women’s strike was held in Poland on Wednesday as people continued to demonstrate against the near-total abortion ban that was imposed after a court ruling last week.

– Protesters call for “real debate about full reproductive rights” after court bans abortions in cases of fetal abnormalities

On the seventh consecutive day of protests against the legal decision, protesters held a strike across the country, walking out from their workplaces and gathering in the streets to express their anger at the ban on abortions in cases of fetal abnormalities – one of the few remaining grounds for abortion in the country.

Demonstrators in Warsaw marched from the office of Ordo Iuris, a conservative group that has been fighting for a full abortion ban, to the country’s parliament, where they were confronted with police in riot gear.

Other major cities such as Krakow, Lodz, Szczecin and Wroclaw saw crowds fill the streets to make their voices heard. 

These demonstrations come after protesters disrupted church services on Sunday, confronting religious figures and graffitiing places of worship, and centrist and left-wing MPs held up posters with pro-choice slogans in parliament on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the Interior Ministry pledged to take tougher measures if people continue to gather to oppose the court ruling, without specifying what action would be taken: “In light of plans being announced by organisers for further acts of aggression and profanation, the police will take decisive action”.

Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bak, a left-wing member of Poland’s parliament, defended the demonstrations by stating that they are showing solidarity with people who simply want “a real debate about… full reproductive rights for women”.

Meanwhile, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), issued a scathing attack on the protests by accusing protesters of “destroying Poland” and “exposing a lot of people to death” by amassing during the coronavirus pandemic.

On the question of the retaliatory attacks against churches, Kaczynski issued a call to arms, saying “we must defend Polish churches at all costs”.

Warning that “rejection of [the Church] is nihilism, and we see this nihilism in these demonstrations”, the PiS chairman and deputy Prime Minister warned “this attack [on churches] is intended to destroy Poland, to lead to the triumph of forces [whose] authorities will end the history of the Polish nation as we know it”.

The recent court ruling means that abortion in Poland is now only legal in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the mother’s health, making the majority-Catholic nation one of the strictest countries in Europe when it comes to abortion access.

– Pope enters fray, asks for “heroic love” to defend all life

As the abortion protests continued, Pope Francis entered the fray at his Wednesday General Audience, recalling in his greeting to the Polish-speaking faithful that the Polish Pope St. John Paul II – the 100th anniversary of whose birth is being commemorated this year, and whose liturgical memorial was celebrated October 22 – “always called for special love for the weak and defenseless and for the protection of every human life from its conception to its natural death”.

“I ask God to arouse in the hearts of all respect for the life of our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable and defenseless, and to give strength to those who welcome and care for it, even when this requires heroic love”, Pope Francis prayed.

The Polish Bishops recalled Pope Francis’ words in a statement on the protests Wednesday, and added that they “observe[d] with great pain the escalation of social tension and aggression”.

Criticising as “disturbing… the vulgar language used by some of the protesters, the destruction of social property, the devastation of churches, the profanation of sacred places… [and the] prevention of the liturgy”, the Polish prelates called on all stakeholders to engage in “meaningful social dialogue” on the abortion issue and for politicians and participants in the debate especially “to thoroughly analyze the causes of the situation and look for ways out, in the spirit of truth and for the common good, without instrumentalizing matters regarding the faith and the Church”.

– German Catholic women blame Church intransigence for stoking unrest: “Abortion is not a crime”

In the meantime, support for the demonstrations in Poland came from the German Catholic Women’s Association (kdfb), who in a statement Wednesday called for “understanding” for the women protesting against the abortion ban.

“Abortion is not a crime. Women who [have to] think about abortion are in dire straits”, the kdfb pleaded, insisting on the need for the compassionate accompaniment of women who experience unwanted pregnancies and also blaming the Catholic Church’s intransigence on abortion for stoking the unrest.

For its part, the Polish Church made a first tentative step towards recognising its responsibility for the protests.

Speaking on Radio Zet, spokesman Leszek Gesiak stressed that “it was not the Church that caused this war. We really did not want this war”. However, he also admitted that the demonstrations could “perhaps” be “a defeat of the language the Church speaks”, and that in fact the Church’s “hierarchical discourse” on abortion might not fit a changing social situation.

(With reporting by RT)

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