POLAND – Record number of protests continue in the streets of Poland

The government has delayed the publication and implementation of the tribunal’s ruling to take some time for dialogue and try to find a solution. The ruling was scheduled to be published on 1 November. Unpublished, it has no legal power though some women have been turned away by doctors anyway. Experts on constitutional law say that delaying the publication of the ruling would violate a legal provision that constitutional court rulings be published “without delay”. However, this government has been known not to publish rulings for up to two years, until pressed by European Union leaders.

As recently as last Friday, other members of the government were labelling protestors as criminals, such as the deputy justice minister, who was threatening protestors with up to eight years in prison for endangering life and health during the pandemic. The minister of education and science warned that universities which granted students days off to join the rallies may face future difficulties in obtaining funds. The deputy prime minister, Kaczyński, said: “These attacks are meant to destroy Poland” and warned of “the end of … the Polish nation as we know it”. Indeed, the latest opinion polls show that support for the governing party has plunged during the crisis.

In the last five days
Demonstrations in Poland have continued daily. On the evening of 30 October in Warsaw, demonstrators estimated there were 150,000 (photo above). Fears that the army would be called in to break it up did not materialise. There were 37 people detained that evening; according to Warsaw police, 35 of them have links with football hooligan groupings. A spokesman for the Warsaw Police Headquarters said the protest had been “very peaceful”. Demonstrations were also held in Gdańsk, Białystok, Poznan, Kraków, Wroclaw, Torun, Sczescin, Myślenice, Gorlice and Jasło.

According to local media, 430,000 people attended more than 400 demonstrations across the country against the ban on 28 October.

In a totally inadequate response on 30 October, Polish President Andrzej Duda said he had submitted a bill in the parliament to re-allow abortion of fetuses with fatal anomalies. Protesters responded by saying the court ruling must be waived entirely. On 2 November, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki appealed for talks with the leaders of the movement in a video appeal to protesters and opposition leaders. Later the same day, he met with parliament leaders, but the main opposition party Civic Coalition and leftists were absent.

Demonstrators have been chanting for the resignation of the Law and Justice-led government, which has been in power since 2015. Some surveys show most people want the ruling party’s leader and deputy prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, to step down, especially after he called last week on his supporters to counter the protesters and defend churches against attacks. The government’s moves to control the judicial system, a new animal rights law and remarks against LGBT rights by top officials created political divisions and provoked protests even before the abortion ruling.

On 1 November, CNN reported that the Abortion Dream Team said that while they usually received about 400 calls a month from women seeking advice and information, in the last week of October they took 700 calls in the space of three days. Some came from women who had just arrived at hospital to have abortions because of fetal anomalies, only to be told to go home because of the ban, even though it had not yet been published or come into effect.

More protests have been announced for this week. Protests were also planned by health care employees who say their sector is poorly organized and has reached its limit in the fight against the coronavirus.

Solidarity letter from 97 Italian groups, 30 October
We are pleased to share a solidarity letter from Italy, dated 30 October, addressed to the Presidents of the European Parliament and European Commission, European Equality Commissioner, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, President of the Italian Council of Ministers, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Italian Government, and Italian Ministers for European Affairs and for Equal Opportunities. It calls for the help of all European institutions because the situation in Poland.

The letter says that since 2004, Poland has been a Member State of the European Union and, as such, bound by Articles 2 and 7 of the Treaty on European Union. Poland must respect “human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities “, values that “are common to the Member States in a society characterized by pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men”. It also points out that “the conduct of Poland in relation to the right to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy and, more generally, in relation to the very stability of democracy and the rule of law, appears to be increasingly worrying, and likely to undermine the standard of protection of fundamental rights required by European Union membership”.

The letter also makes a number of demands, including that the European Parliament should review the situation in Poland as regards violations of the rule of law and human rights. It calls on Member States to “welcome Polish women who can’t exercise their legal right to have an abortion in their domestic hospitals and by covering all the costs”. It is signed by 97 groups, including a wide range of women’s, arts and rights groups from across Italy. SEE FULL TEXT IN ENGLISH AND LIST OF SIGNATORIES HERE.

SOURCES: EU Observer, by Paulina Pacula, 3-11-20 ; Guardian, by AP, 3-11-20 ; AP News, 2-11-20 ; CTV News, 2-11-20 ; CNN, by Emma Reynolds, 1-11-20 ; CNN, by Antonia Mortensen, Laura Smith-Spark, 31-10-20 ; CTV News, by AP, 1-11-20 ; Polskie Radio, by IAR, PAP, 31-10-20 ; PHOTO by Kacper Pempel/Reuters, Guardian, 30-10-20 ; Sostehno donne Polonia, sent by Daniela Colombo, 30-10-20.