On Thursday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki appealed for an end to mass riots over abortion rights, saying those attending were disregarding “massive risks” from the resurgent coronavirus pandemic.
Five days of nationwide protests followed a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal last week that amounts to a near-total ban on abortion in the predominantly Catholic nation.
Once the decision goes into effect, pregnancy termination will only be legal in Poland in the case of rape, incest, or a threat to the mother’s health. The court said abortion due to abnormalities, the only other legal termination case in Poland until now, was unconstitutional.
“These outbursts we see in the streets should not be taking place. We will oppose any acts of aggression decisively,” Morawiecki said.
He said his conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government would ensure mothers and their children born despite health problems would be taken care of and helped to “live a normal life.”
Protests have focused in part on concerns women would be forced to carry to term pregnancies with severe genetic disorders likely to result in the baby’s death during labor or shortly after.
They have taken place across the country in defiance of restrictions imposed to curb mounting COVID-19 cases. On Tuesday, Poland hit a new record of 16,300 reported new infections.
No nationwide protests were scheduled on Tuesday.
But scuffles erupted in parliament, with opposition lawmakers surrounding PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, carrying signs reading “This is war”, “Shame,” and “Legal abortion.”
Kaczynski and PiS appear to have been surprised by the intensity of the protests, which have also fuelled an unusually fierce backlash against the Roman Catholic Church in Poland. The clergy are seen as having close links with the nationalist PiS and its ultra-conservative allies in parliament.
PiS came to power five years ago to promise to instill more traditional values in public life and has attracted widespread criticism at home and abroad over a crackdown on LGBT rights and campaign rhetoric opponents say foments homophobia.
The European Commission has said a PiS overhaul of the judiciary, which the party says aims to make the system more effective and fair, amounts to a subversion of democratic norms because it has politicized courts.
The party has also been criticized for wielding significant control over state media, notably broadcaster TVP, which ran a news ticker on Tuesday saying, “Left-wing fascism is destroying Poland” and “The opposition seeks anarchy because it lost elections.”
Abortion has further polarised Poland, which is already riven by conflicts over western liberal values, which PiS says are undermining traditional society.