Across Poland, People stayed off their jobs and crowds gathered for a seventh straight day of street protests Wednesday in a mass outpouring of anger at a top court ruling that bans abortions in cases of fetal abnormalities.
In Warsaw, protesters marched from the office of Ordo Iuris, a conservative group that has pushed for a full abortion ban, to the parliament building, which was surrounded by police officers in riot gear. Large crowds also filled the streets in other major cities, including Krakow, Wroclaw, Szczecin and Lodz.
The nationwide strike and protests come amid a deepening standoff between angry demonstrators and Poland’s deeply conservative government, which pushed for last Thursday’s court ruling and has vowed not to back down.
“I am so furious! They have no right to decide about my life, about my personal decisions, about my future,” Julka Wojciechowska, 19, a student protesting in Warsaw, said. “They don’t understand young people. They don’t understand the world now, but they are trying to regulate our lives. We will never allow that.”
Daily protests since Poland’s constitutional court issued its decision have exposed deep divisions in this central European nation of 38 million, long a bastion of conservative Catholicism and now undergoing rapid social transformation.
Rage over the ruling, which would deny legal abortions to women even in cases of fatal birth defects, has been directed at the Roman Catholic Church and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the ruling party leader and most powerful politician in Poland.
Kaczynski said in the past that pregnancies involving even fetuses that are badly damaged and have no chance of survival outside the womb should “still end up in a birth, so that the child can be baptized, buried, have a name.”
On Sunday, women entered Polish churches on Sunday to disrupt Masses, confronted priests with obscenities and spray-painted church buildings.
Kaczynski accused protesters of seeking “to destroy Poland” late Tuesday and called on his party’s supporters to defend churches “at any cost.”
He spoke to a camera backed by Polish flags in an announcement that some critics compared to a notorious announcement of martial law in 1981 by communist leader Wojciech Jaruzelski to crack down on anti-regime protests.
Some saw Kaczynski’s words as an incitement to violence. The 71-year-old holds the job of deputy prime minister in charge of police and security services.