Poland abortion ruling: Police use pepper spray against protesters

Woman wrapped in sheet with writing “hell for women” takes part in protest in front of Constitutional Tribunal

The ruling means pregnancies that endanger a woman's life, as well as those that occur through rape, are the only legal avenues remaining for having an abortion in Poland.

Chief justice Julia Przylebska said in a ruling that existing legislation which allows for the abortion of malformed fetuses was "incompatible" with the constitutional protection of life.

Many of protesters who gathered in cities throughout Poland wore protective masks while defying a coronavirus-related ban on gatherings.

Protesters also took to the streets of some of Poland's biggest cities outside the capital, namely Krakow, Wroclaw, Szczecin and Katowice.

Law & Justice, which has vowed to return Poland to its "traditional Catholic" roots, has rejected the EU's liberal, multi-cultural values, clashing with its partners in the bloc over issues from gay rights to the rule of law.

Earlier this year, however, the party backed a new abortion bill, which emerged out of an online petition.

The verdict, which is final and can not be appealed, drew immediate condemnation from the Council of Europe.

A group of right-wing politicians asked the Tribunal in December 2019 to rule on the legality of aborting when there is serious, irreversible damage to the foetus.

Kara Godek, a member of Poland's Stop Abortion group, praised the decision, saying, "today Poland is an example for Europe, it's an example for the world". "The worst-case scenario that could have come true has come true".

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That initiative was abandoned by Law & Justice after Polish women took to the streets in anti-government protests. Either they have no chance of surviving, or they have no chance of an independent existence, or they will die shortly after giving birth.

Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights, said it was a "sad day for women's rights".

"Removing the basis for nearly all legal abortions in Poland amounts to a ban and violates Human Rights", Mijatovic tweeted.

Protest against imposing further restrictions on abortion law in Poland, a country with some of the strictest abortion rules in Europe, is pictured in front of the Constitutional Court building in Warsaw, Poland.

Critics accuse the ruling party of using the cover of the pandemic to push it through with a politicized court. While the Tribunal is nominally independent, most of its judges have been nominated by PiS.

Donald Tusk, a Pole who now leads the European People's Party after presiding the European Council, called the timing of the abortion issue "political wickedness". PiS has denied any attempts to influence the court. Its justice reforms, which included the tribunal, have attracted wide worldwide accusations of undermining democratic norms. "In my wildest dreams I never thought something like this would happen 30 years after the abortion law was liberalised".

"Throwing the topic of abortion and a ruling by a pseudo-court into the middle of a raging pandemic is more than cynical", he tweeted.

Poland's abortion laws were already among the strictest in Europe and it is estimated that about 100,000 women seek a termination overseas each year to get around the tight restrictions.

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