Tens of thousands of protesters in Poland, mainly women, have taken to the streets against a ruling that limits abortion.

In Poland, nationwide protests over a new ruling that bans abortions in cases of fetal abnormalities, show no sign of abating. Here’s why anger is rising:

New law bans terminations, even in the case of fetal abnormalities

A new law imposing a near-total ban on abortion was introduced on October 22. The Catholic nation already had one of the most strict abortion laws, but the new ruling tightened existing laws. Terminations, in cases of serious fetal abnormalities that can’t be reversed, as well as when life-threatening diseases threaten the fetus, are now banned. 

The country was previously allowing abortions only in three cases: “risk to the life or health of the pregnant woman; severe and irreversible impairment of the fetus; or pregnancy as a result of a prohibited act,” the UN says. The law still allows abortions for pregnancies as a result of rape and in case of life-threatening cases to the woman.

"This ruling will have devastating consequences for women and adolescent girls in need of such terminations, especially those who are socio-economically disadvantaged and migrant women in irregular situations who do not have the means to go abroad for abortion services," UN human rights experts said in a statement.

This is not the first time the government has proposed an abortion ban. But attempts in 2016 and 2018 failed due to public backlash. 

Going strong for over a week

Mass protests have gone on for over a week since the announcement of the top court’s ruling, despite coronavirus restrictions. Tens of thousands of people have blocked main roads, skipped work to protest against a government they say is increasingly restricting their rights. But the nationwide strike has also turned into public anger against policies regarding women in general, minority rights, and the fight against coronavirus. The protesters now not only demand a withdrawal of the law but also want the government to resign.

Critics complain that the judiciary's independence has eroded after a crisis began when the ruling Justice and Law party have appointed five judges to the Constitutional Tribunal in October last year. They say the previous attempts to ban abortion failed only because of the presence of an independent judiciary, but that has weakened now.

The current protests are the strongest stand-off yet against the ruling government with people in more than 150 cities in Poland joining them. 

Poland’s embassies in some European countries, including Stockholm, Lisbon, and Rome, also witnessed demonstrations in support of Polish women’s rights. 

Poland's Kaczynski invites Poles to defend the nation

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the deputy prime minister and leader of the ruling Law and Justice party invited the nation to fight back against the demonstrators as he said opposition criminals were seeking to “destroy the Polish nation.”  

The interior ministry said on Wednesday that it will take tougher measures if protests target churches.

"In light of plans being announced by organisers for further acts of aggression and profanation, the police will take decisive action. The goal of the police is to ensure public order and safety for all citizens," the ministry said in a statement.

It came after some protesters vandalised church facades and staged sit-ins in the Cathedrals while government supporters gathered around churches to protect them.

The supporters of the government say they are happy about the new law passed by the Constitutional Tribunal.

 "We believe that every day of delay is a day that we lose another child's life because of suspected flaws or genetic diseases," Karolina Pawlowska, director of an anti-abortion campaign group, Ordo Iuris told Reuters.