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Polish barber sacrifices pay to fight for women's rights in abortion protests

WARSAW (Reuters) - Polish barber Kinga Rutkowska has struggled to make ends meet during the pandemic but for her, protecting women’s rights outweighs financial losses, so she closed her shop on Wednesday to join a national protest against further abortion restrictions.

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Rutkowska, 22, is one of thousands who have taken to the streets across Poland for seven consecutive days since the Constitutional Tribunal last week banned the most common of the few legal grounds for abortion in the mostly Catholic country.

On Wednesday, small businesses nationwide closed their shops in protest.

“I’m able to sacrifice the money because it’s not money that plays a part here. This is about our fight and our lives,” said Rutkowska, estimating that she will lose about 1,000 zlotys ($258.11) for the day of protest.

Once the ruling goes into effect, abortion will only be legal in the case of incest, rape or a threat to the mother’s health. The court said abortion due to foetal abnormalities, the only other case for legal termination in Poland until now, was unconstitutional.

Protesters are demanding a reversal of the tribunal’s decision. On Tuesday, ruling party leader and deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski issued a televised statement saying the court decision was irreversible and that protesters were committing a crime.

“I believe that this Wednesday strike can change something. The more of us, the better. There’s strength in a group,” Rutkowska told Reuters.

She took to the streets in a mask with a red lighting bolt, the symbol of the protests, painted on with nail polish, matching her red hair. She also drew lightning bolts on her hands with lipstick.

Rutkowska wears the same mask in her shop, where her clients have been divided over the ruling.

“Clients were asking me about my decision and some of them decided to join while I lost others because of my views.”

She feels convinced the protests can defeat the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government and is therefore willing to suffer more financial pain.

“Our lockdown losses were very big. The state doesn’t do much to help us. Too bad - we will lose, but they will lose more,” Rutkowska said.

($1 = 3.8743 zlotys)

Writing by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Alexandra Hudson