Armed with red paint and defiant coronavirus restrictions, hundreds of Poles gathered in Warsaw on Thursday against a controversial court ruling that introduced an almost total ban on abortion.
Protesters also took to the streets elsewhere in the EU in what was the second night of outrage after the Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday.
The move means that all abortions in Poland are now prohibited except in cases of rape and incest, or when the mother’s life or health is considered to be in danger.
“We gather here because this state believes it can take away our freedom,” Marta Lempart, a leading protest organizer from the Women’s Strike Group, told the audience at the Warsaw Rally.
Many wore face masks with the red flash symbol used by pro-choice activists, lit red spots and held up signs declaring “We have had enough” and “This means war”.
Some protesters spilled cans of red paint in front of the fenced-in constitutional court. Several people were arrested by the police after entering the premises.
Women’s Strike tweeted that among those detained was one of the group’s leaders, Klementyna Suchanow.
The court’s ruling is backed by Poland’s right-wing and ultra-Catholic government, which gave it legal force by publishing it in the Journal of Laws on Wednesday.
The country was shaken by massive demonstrations when the verdict was first issued in October, following a request from members of the ruling party for law and justice (PiS).
The judgment of 22 October states that abortions in cases of fetal abnormalities were “incompatible” with the constitution.
The predominantly Catholic Poland already has one of Europe’s most restrictive laws on abortion.
There are fewer than 2,000 legal abortions each year and women’s groups estimate that another 200,000 women have abortions either illegally or abroad.
The government has defended the ruling, saying it will stop “eugenic abortions”, citing the termination of fetuses diagnosed with Down’s syndrome, but human rights groups have said it will force women to carry out non-viable pregnancies.