POLAND—On Wednesday, October 28, tens of thousands of women took to the streets in Polish cities to protest a high court’s ruling to ban nearly all abortions. It marked the sixth straight day of protests in Poland.

Abortion is only legal in Poland if the pregnancy endangers the life or health of the mother or is the result of rape or incest.

Amid the ruling by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, it is illegal to terminate a pregnancy if there are severe fetal health defects, which is the most common reason for the procedure in the nation. According to Poland’s Ministry of Health, in 2019, of the 1,110 abortions performed in Polish clinics, 1,074 were because of malformations.

The nationwide strike and protests have been organized by Women’s Strike, a women’s rights initiative. Women and allies took to Gdansk, Lodz, Warsaw, Wroclaw and Siemiatycze to voice their discontent. In Warsaw, a crowd marched to Parliament, engaging in civil disobedience by blocking traffic. One sign held by protesters stated: “Abort The Government.” A different sign stated: “No Woman, No Kraj (Country).”

The discontent of the protesters is aimed at the Roman Catholic Church and conservative ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

In a video posted to his Facebook, Kaczynski called protesters “criminals” who sought to “destroy the Polish nation.” He urged his conservative supporters to “defend Poland” and Polish churches in particular, as it is “the only way [to] win this war.” 

His specifying churches is of significance as protesters have accused the Church of influencing the law. On Sunday, October 25, protesters walked into Polish churches, disrupted Masses, confronted priests and spray-painted the properties. One group of women marched into a cathedral wearing long red robes and white bonnets, mimicking “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

The Church denied accusations of influence, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki said in a statement that it “is not the Church that constitutes the law in our Homeland and that it is not bishops who make decisions on the compliance or non-compliance of statutes with the Constitution of the Republic of Poland.”

In 2016 and 2018, Kaczynski’s party tried to impose a ban on abortion. Activists succeeded in stopping a draft law that would have banned all abortions in Poland and resulted in prison sentences for women who got them and doctors who performed them. The 2020 ban was imposed through the Constitutional Tribunal, controlled by party loyalists.

“When others were getting ready for a war with the virus, you were getting ready for a war with the nation. Back out before a tragedy occurs,” said Polish opposition politician and former President of the European Council, Donald Franciszek Tusk, to the Polish government.

Individuals have also staged protests in solidarity with Polish women at Polish embassies in the cities of London, Stockholm, Lisbon and Rome.