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Poles join nationwide strike in revolt over abortion ruling

Women's rights activists in Poland protest recent court ruling on abortion.
Activists with the Women’s Strike organization protest the recent tightening of Poland’s restrictive abortion law.
(Czarek Sokolowski / Associated Press)

People across Poland vowed to go on strike Wednesday as part of a nationwide campaign to protest a court ruling banning abortion in cases of congenitally damaged fetuses.

The nationwide strike comes amid a deepening standoff between angry crowds who have been taking to the streets over the ruling and Poland’s deeply conservative government, which has vowed not to back down.

The constitutional court ruling last Thursday has triggered daily mass protests across Poland, exposing deep divisions in a country that has long been a bastion of conservative Catholicism but is now undergoing rapid social transformation.

Rage over the ruling, which would deny legal abortions to women even in cases where a child is sure to die upon birth, has been directed at the Roman Catholic Church and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the ruling party leader and most powerful politician in this country of 38 million people.

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In actions previously unthinkable, women entered churches Sunday to disrupt Masses, confronted priests with obscenities and spray-painted church buildings.

Women’s Strike, the organization that has spearheaded the protests over the past week, called for Wednesday’s workplace walkout under the slogan: “We are not going to work.”

Some lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are leaving Poland following the anti-LGBTQ campaign rhetoric the president used to get reelected.

Polish media reported that some university classes had been called off, and that the mayors of Warsaw and Krakow were also supporting the call for workers to stay off their jobs.

Kaczynski accused protesters late Tuesday of seeking “to destroy Poland” 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 Party leader Wojciech Jaruzelski to crack down on anti-regime protests.

Some saw Kaczynski’s words as an incitement to violence because the 71-year-old also holds the job of deputy prime minister in charge of police and security services.

Judges like Waldemar Zurek say the nationalist government is intimidating them and putting the rule of law in Poland’s young democracy at risk.

On Sunday, members of some far-right groups and soccer fans surrounded churches to defend them, in some cases provoking skirmishes with protesters and police.

Szymon Holownia, the founder of a new centrist political movement, said that Kaczynski, “in the name of defending the church, wants to set fire to the country and drown it in blood.”

Bartosz Weglarczyk, the editor of the news portal Onet, accused Kaczynski of giving permission to soccer hooligans and far-right extremists “to beat people in the streets.”

Kaczynski blamed the protesters for risking lives by gathering in huge numbers amid a pandemic. Other conservative leaders are trying to depict the protesters as fascists.

“Left-wing fascism is destroying Poland,” a headline on state TV said Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski vowed “decisive action” by the police “in the face of further attempts of similar acts of aggression and desecration announced by the leaders and organizers of the protests.”

He said 76 people had been detained in connection with protests at churches, and prosecutors are carrying out proceedings in 101 cases.

Social tensions are also rising with ongoing protests by Polish farmers, who are angry over the government’s proposal of a new animal welfare bill that they say will harm them economically.


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