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Poles protest move to further restrict abortion access

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Dozens of Polish women’s rights activists used their cars and bicycles to block central Warsaw on Tuesday to protest draft legislation that would ban the abortion of foetuses with congenital birth defects, an AFP photographer saw.
Blaring horns and displaying posters with “#PiekloKobiet” (Women’s Hell) in their car windows, organisers insisted they were observing tight coronavirus lockdown rules that allow only two people to gather at a time.

Poland’s parliament on Wednesday is expected to debate fresh efforts to further tighten what is already one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws.

Draft legislation proposed under a citizens’ motion would ban the abortion of foetuses with birth defects.

Activists said they were also protesting against a separate draft aimed at further restricting access to already very limited sex education in public schools.

“Honking the car horn for 40 minutes allowed me to express my frustration,” Warsaw protester Joanna Kalinska told AFP via telephone from her car.

“I couldn’t stand idly by… the authorities are using the lockdown-related ban on assemblies to push through their ban on abortion because there’s no public support for tightening of the law in this way,” she added.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, on Tuesday called for the proposed restrictions to be rejected.

“With almost all pregnancy terminations lawfully carried out in Poland today falling under this category (congenital defects), the bill -– if adopted -– would result in virtually outlawing abortion and seriously affecting rights and safety of women in the country,” Mijatovic said in an emailed statement.

Police in Warsaw used megaphones to warn protesters they risked legal repercussions, including fines, for staging the protest despite the mandatory lockdown designed to stem COVID-19 infections.

Kalinska told AFP that police had fined her 200 zloty (44 euro, $48) for using her mobile telephone while driving.

Women’s groups also staged smaller protests in cars and on bicycles in other Polish cities and towns on Tuesday.

Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government has previously attempted to tighten the devoutly Catholic country’s abortion law, which already allows terminations only if pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, it poses a threat to the mother’s life or if the foetus is deformed.

One such initiative was scrapped after mass protests by tens of thousands of women dressed in black across the country in 2016.