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Poland's Top Court Tightens Near-Total Abortion Ban

Woman wrapped in sheet with writing “hell for women” takes part in protest in front of Constitutional Tribunal

Poland's Constitutional Tribunal ruled on Thursday that abortion due to fetal defects are unconstitutional, banning the most common legal grounds for terminating a pregnancy in the country.

"(A provision which) legalises eugenic practices in the field of the right to life of an unborn child and makes the right to life of an unborn child dependent on his or her inconsistent. with the constitution", said Julia Przylebska, Head of the Constitutional Tribunal. Police used tear gas and detained 15 people then.

Thursday evening also saw smaller protests in other locations across Poland, including Krakow, Lodz and Szczecin, which went ahead without clashes with law enforcement.

"It's sick that such controversial things are being decided at a time when the entire society lives in fear (of the pandemic) and is afraid to go into the streets", said Marianna Dobkowska, 41. The conservative party has vowed to return the country to its "traditional Catholic" origins, and it has rejected the European Union's push for liberal, multi-cultural values.

Earlier this year, however, the party backed a new abortion bill, which emerged out of an online petition.

Police officers in Warsaw are shown after protests broke out on Thursday against a ruling by Poland's Constitutional Tribunal that imposes further restrictions on abortions in the country.

Kara Godek, a member of Poland's Stop Abortion group, praised the decision, saying, "today Poland is an example for Europe, it's an example for the world".

Polish opposition parties, the EU's human rights commissioner as well as global human rights organizations condemned the court's decision as violating women's rights. "The worst-case scenario that could have come true has come true".

An attempt by the PiS government to tighten the abortion law in 2016 was scrapped following nationwide protests by tens of thousands of women dressed in black. Banner reads "I'm not just for giving birth".

Activists deplored the decision, and the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner wrote on Twitter that it was a "sad day for women's rights".

"Removing the basis for nearly all legal abortions in #Poland amounts to a ban & violates #HumanRights", Mijatovic tweeted.

They were protesting over the ruling by the government-controlled Constitutional Court that declared abortion of defective foetuses unconstitutional, closing a major loophole in the 1993 abortion law that was a hard-won compromise.

The court, dominated by judges appointed by the Law & Justice party, said a 27-year-old law allowing the termination of pregnancies due to damaged fetuses was unconstitutional.

Critics of the court's ruling also voiced their suspicions that Law and Justice, having failed to get a bill through parliament, made a decision to use the Supreme Court as an alternative means of enacting legislation.

Former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk - who now leads the centre-right European People's Party grouping after presiding over the European Council - also criticised the judgement. PiS denies trying to influence the court or taking advantage of the pandemic to push through the changes.