Polish women enter churches to protest abortion restriction

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Women’s rights activists furious over a tightening of Poland’s already restrictive abortion law staged protests outside and inside churches on Sunday, disrupting Masses and finding themselves confronted with accusations of “barbaric” behavior.

At the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw, a group of far-right nationalists blocked stairs leading to the entrance. When one woman managed to push her way through, the nationalists grabbed and threw her on the pavement.

A video posted from the northern Polish city of Szczecinek showed young women surrounding a priest and yelling at him to “Go back to the church” and to “F—- off.”

The actions on Sunday follow a ruling on Thursday by Poland’s constitutional court that declared that aborting fetuses with congenital defects is unconstitutional. Poland already had one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws, and the ruling will result in a near-complete ban on abortion.

The scene of angry young women entering churches and confronting priests with obscenities signals a dramatic historical change in Poland, where the Roman Catholic Church has been venerated for centuries as the highest authority and where such events would have been unthinkable not so long ago.

The Catholic Church earned respect during the communist era for supporting pro-democracy dissidents in their struggle for freedom, and the late Polish pope St. John Paul II is held up as a national hero.

But today, Poland’s Catholic church is often viewed by liberal Poles as a reactionary force standing on the side of the country’s right-wing government.

The events on Sunday marked a further escalation of a cultural war in Poland as women’s and LGBT rights activists have increasingly turned to more radical protest methods after feeling that years of lobbying for greater rights have not brought the desired results.

A young woman in one Warsaw church stood near the altar with a sign that said “Let’s pray for the right to abortion.”

An LGBT rights group, Grupa Stonewall, posted a video showing people protesting in a church in the western Polish city of Poznan, chanting “We’ve had enough!” Churchgoers replied by chanting “Barbarians!”

There were also account of churches being spray-painted with slogans and the phone number to an organization that helps Polish women seeking abortions abroad or abortion pills.

Some Poles argued on Twitter that people should not bring politics into churches. Others said that Poland’s powerful Catholic Church was the first side to get involved in politics by pushing for a total abortion ban and supporting the country’s right-wing government and even far-right organizations in some cases.

Polish media accounts of the day also reflected the deep divide.

Do Rzeczy, a right-wing, pro-government news portal, had a headline that read: “Devastated churches, disrupted masses. Scandalous protests by feminists.”

The liberal newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza declared in a headline: “Aggressive reactions of policemen all over Poland…. Scenes like those from Belarus on the streets.”

Women’s Strike, the organizer of the protests, argues that forcing women to give birth to fetuses with severe defects will result in

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Polish women protest new abortion restriction in churches

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Women’s rights activists in Poland staged protests during Sunday church services in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation against a tightening of the nation’s already restrictive abortion law.



A crowd gathers outside the house of Poland's ruling conservative party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Warsaw, Poland, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Protesters vented anger for a second day across Poland over a court ruling that declared abortions of fetuses with congenital defects unconstitutional. The hundreds of protesters who gathered in many cities defied a COVID-19-related ban on gatherings that was imposed nationwide on Friday. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)


© Provided by Associated Press
A crowd gathers outside the house of Poland’s ruling conservative party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Warsaw, Poland, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Protesters vented anger for a second day across Poland over a court ruling that declared abortions of fetuses with congenital defects unconstitutional. The hundreds of protesters who gathered in many cities defied a COVID-19-related ban on gatherings that was imposed nationwide on Friday. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

In the fourth straight day of protests, activists held up banners during Masses in some churches, according to Polish media and posts on social media.

A young woman in one Warsaw church stood near the altar with a sign that said “Let’s pray for the right to abortion.”

The actions on Sunday follow a ruling on Thursday by Poland’s constitutional court that declared that aborting fetuses with congenital defects is unconstitutional. Poland already had one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws, and the ruling will result in a near-complete ban on abortion.



A crowd gathers outside the house of Poland's ruling conservative party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Warsaw, Poland, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Protesters vented anger for a second day across Poland over a court ruling that declared abortions of fetuses with congenital defects unconstitutional. The hundreds of protesters who gathered in many cities defied a COVID-19-related ban on gatherings that was imposed nationwide on Friday. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)


© Provided by Associated Press
A crowd gathers outside the house of Poland’s ruling conservative party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Warsaw, Poland, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Protesters vented anger for a second day across Poland over a court ruling that declared abortions of fetuses with congenital defects unconstitutional. The hundreds of protesters who gathered in many cities defied a COVID-19-related ban on gatherings that was imposed nationwide on Friday. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Women’s Strike, the organizer of the protests, argues that forcing women to give birth to badly deformed fetuses will result in unnecessary physical and mental suffering.

In Otwock, a town near Warsaw, a banner with the slogan “Women’s Hell” was hung on a church fence.

The activists also created posters of a crucified pregnant woman intended for hanging outside churches, according to media reports, though it was not immediately clear how many were hung.

A right wing news portal, Do Rzeczy, called it a “scandalous protests by feminists.”

Thursday’s ruling came as Poland’s nationalist conservative ruling party has politicized the courts — including the constitutional court — and used discriminatory language against LGBT people.

Last week, the president swore in a new education minister who has said that LGBT people are not equal to “normal people,” has argued in support of corporal punishment and said women’s key purpose in life is to have children.

Health Ministry figures show that 1,110 legal abortions were carried out in Poland in 2019, mostly because of fetal defects. The only other legal cases remaining for abortion are rape or inc**t or if the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or health.

Women’s Strike says it is planning further actions in the coming days, including blockades of cities on Monday, a nationwide strike by women on Wednesday and street protests on Friday.

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