Protesters from across Poland defied coronavirus restrictions to demonstrate in Warsaw against a court ruling that bans almost all abortions.
“We’re prepared to fight till the end,” Marta Lempart, co-founder of the Women’s Strike movement, told reporters on Friday.
Security was tight – with both military police and regular officers on site – following clashes between protesters and far-right activists during nine consecutive days of protests.
More than 400,000 people took part in mostly peaceful nationwide demonstrations on Wednesday and organisers said they hoped many people would travel to the capital for Friday’s protest.
Women’s rights groups organising the marches face possible prosecution since any gatherings of more than five people are currently banned under coronavirus rules.
Smaller rallies were also expected in dozens of other Polish cities, including Krakow and Wroclaw, as well as abroad in Barcelona, Vienna and elsewhere.
Mass protests began last week when Poland’s Constitutional Court ruled an existing law allowing the abortion of damaged foetuses was “incompatible” with the constitution.
Protesters have focused their anger on the governing ultra-Catholic Law and Justice (PiS) party, whose lawmakers asked the court to rule on the provision.
Poland, a traditionally devout Catholic country of 38 million people, already has one of the most stringent abortion laws in Europe.
There are fewer than 2,000 legal abortions every year, although women’s groups estimate some 200,000 women abort either illegally or abroad.
Once published in the official journal, the constitutional court ruling would ban all abortions except in cases of rape and incest, or when the life of the mother is in danger.
The government has defended the verdict, saying it will halt “eugenic abortions”, but human rights groups have said it would force women to carry non-viable pregnancies.
President Andrzej Duda said he would propose a bill reintroducing the possibility of terminating a pregnancy due to foetal abnormalities, although only limited to “lethal” defects.
Duda, who is an ally of the ruling nationalists, said abortion would be limited to the most serious cases. PiS has a majority in the lower house of parliament and so it has the power to adopt it.
Liberal opposition lawmaker Katarzyna Lubnauer said the amendment was “unacceptable”.
Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus, an activist and leftist lawmaker, said the bill was “an attempt to soften the situation for PiS, but no sane person should fall for it”.