October 24, 2016 / 4:49 PM / 3 years ago

Polish women protest again as ruling party heats up abortion row

WARSAW (Reuters) - Hundreds of women marched again in Polish cities on Monday to oppose proposals for tight restrictions on abortion after earlier protests effectively scuttled a near-total ban on terminating pregnancies.

Women hold umbrellas with slogans during an abortion rights campaigners' demonstration in front of the church in Warsaw, Poland October 24, 2016. Agencja Gazeta/Slawomir Kaminski/via REUTERS

They reacted to comments by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the conservative ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, that even severely deformed fetuses should not be aborted so they could be baptized and properly buried.

Television reports showed hundreds of women dressed in black protesting on the streets of major Polish cities including Katowice, Wroclaw, Poznan, Gdansk, Warsaw and Bialystok.

The renewed protest was organized by a group called The Nationwide Women’s Strike and was aimed at the PiS government and its close ally, the influential Roman Catholic Church.

“No to degrading and violence against women. No to interference of the Church in politics,” the group declared on its Facebook page that called for another round of protests.

“I do not want Mr Kaczynski and the Church to take decisions about my life,” said Ola, 34, a psychologist marching in the capital Warsaw on Monday.

“I am here after Kaczynski’s comments about giving birth to deformed fetuses,” said Krystyna, 62, a speech therapist, during a protest in Warsaw on Sunday. “I do not want my daughters to be forced to do that.”

Poland’s parliament overwhelmingly rejected the government’s initial plan for a near-total abortion ban on Oct. 6, three days after tens of thousands of women surprised lawmakers with unexpectedly strong street protests around the country.

Kaczynski responded the following week with a new proposal that prompted the women protesters to regroup for these latest demonstrations.

He said in an interview published on Oct. 12 that PiS would “strive to make cases of even very difficult pregnancies, when the child is doomed to die (because it is) severely deformed, finish with birth, so that the child can be baptized, buried, given a name.”

Although he spoke against penalizing women for having abortions and said his plan would use indirect means such as financial support to reduce abortions, the women activists were worried that access to abortion could further be restricted.

Poland already has one of the most restrictive laws on abortion in the European Union.

Under a 1993 law that ended the liberal approach of the communist era, abortion is allowed in cases of rape, incest, danger to the mother’s health or when prenatal tests show serious and irreversible damage to the fetus.

While stopping short of introducing penalties for women, the powerful Catholic Church wants to totally ban abortion.

Kaczynski, a 67-year-old bachelor with no children, said last year at the country’s famed Jasna Gora shrine that the Catholic Church is the only moral guidepost in Poland.

PiS officials have been quoted in local media saying the party may introduce a bill that would allow abortion in the case of rape and incest and a threat to the mother’s health, but ban terminations of potentially handicapped babies.

Reporting by Marcin Goettig; Additional reporting by Jakub Iglewski and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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