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Wednesday June 23rd, 2021 4:39PM

Poland's leaders defend abortion ruling, condemn protests

By The Associated Press
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WARSAW, Poland (AP) — WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s conservative leaders on Tuesday defended the tightening of the predominantly Catholic country's strict abortion law and condemned massive nationwide protests led by women's rights activists — in breach of pandemic regulations — as social tensions grew.

The ruling right-wing party chief called for the defense of traditional Catholic and patriotic values and warned that the protests in times of fast-spreading pandemic could lead to extensive loss of life, but the opposition leader accused him of inciting hatred and civil war.

The country's top court on Thursday ruled that abortions due to fetal congenital defects are unconstitutional. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski responded to the ensuing massive protests that entered the sixth day Tuesday and included angry gatherings before churches and even disruptions of Masses.

In a Facebook video message Kaczynski insisted that the ruling was in line with the constitution and said the protests were marked by anti-church “nihilism.”

“We must defend Polish churches, we must defend them at every price," Kaczynski said, in an appeal to members and supporters of the ruling Law and Justice party.

Opposition Civic Coalition leader Borys Budka reacted by saying that words calling for “hatred, inciting civil war and using party forces to attack citizens are a crime.”

He warned that the opposition could seek to bring Kaczynski before a special court for politicians.

In his message, Kaczynski also said the protesters were “committing a serious crime” by breaching the anti-COVID-19 nationwide ban on gatherings larger than five people.

“In the current situation these demonstrations will surely cost the lives of many people,” said Kaczynski whose right-wing party won power in 2015 on a platform that included a promise to tighten the abortion law.

He spoke as people across Poland took strolls in a form of protest that blocked traffic. A general strike that would see all women stay off work is planned Wednesday and a major protest march will be held in the capital city of Warsaw on Friday.

Earlier Tuesday tensions involving Kaczynski also erupted in parliament.

Parliament's speaker called guards to protect Kaczynski, a deputy prime minister, from angry opposition lawmakers. Speaker Ryszard Telecki, a close ally of Kaczynski, caused more anger by likening the red lightning symbol of the protests to the runes of Nazi Germany's SS forces.

On Monday, thousands of protesters led by women’s rights activists blocked traffic for hours in most cities and also gathered outside churches, chanting obscenities against Poland’s influential Catholic Church leaders, who condemn abortions. They called for the women to have the right of choice.

Early Tuesday, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, whose government backs the tight restrictions, defended the court verdict said that “In order to have the freedom of choice you first must be alive.”

Morawiecki added that “the situations that we are seeing in the streets and which amount to acts of aggression, vandalism (and) attacks, are absolutely inadmissible, should not be taking place at all.”

He urged everyone to observe restrictions in an effort to fight a sudden spike in coronavirus cases, which hit a new high of some 16,300 daily confirmed cases Tuesday.

The Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling on Thursday tightened what was already one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws. When it takes effect, which is expected with its official publication in the coming days or weeks, abortion will be permitted only when a pregnancy threatens the woman’s health or is the result of crime like rape or incest.

___

Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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