WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Protesters marched in Warsaw and other Polish cities Saturday against an attempt to restrict abortion rights and the police violence that occurred in response to other recent protests over reproductive rights.
In Warsaw, protesters “renamed" a downtown square where they have often met recently to Women's Rights Roundabout. An activist climbed onto a ladder on a van to hang a new street sign over the official one reading Roman Dmowski Roundabout.
Women's rights activists have been calling on city authorities in Poland's capital to approve a formal name change. They say it would honor a movement for equality rather than Dmowski, a statesman who had a key role in helping Poland regain national independence in 1918, but also an anti-Semite.
The protests in Krakow, Gdansk and other cities on Saturday were planned to coincide with Polish women gaining the right to vote 102 years ago. The events were organized under the slogan, “In the name of mother, daughter, sister.”
“Our great-grandmothers did not let themselves be intimidated! We will not give up either!” organizers in the southern city of Bielsko-Biala said in their appeal for people to join.
As the protesters marched, police declared through megaphones that the gathering was illegal. Large police cordons sought to block the protesters' path, but many were able to bypass officers by moving through courtyards and side streets.
The demonstrations are part of what has evolved into Poland's largest protest movement since communism fell in the country 30 years ago. An Oct. 22 ruling by to ban abortions of fetuses with congenital defects, even when the fetus has no chance of survival at birth, sparked the protests.
Poland already had one of Europe’s most restrictive laws, hammered out in the early 1990s between political and Catholic church leaders whose authority was bolstered by having a Polish pope, John Paul II, at the Vatican. That 27-year-old law allowed abortions only in the cases of fetal defects, risk to a woman’s health and incest or rape.
Amid mass protests, the government has not implemented the high court's ruling, a tactical victory so far for the Women's Strike, the movement that organized the protests that brought hundreds of thousands of people to the streets of hundreds of towns in recent weeks.
Activists now are demanding a full liberalization of Poland's abortion law and the resignation of the country's right-wing government.
Some in Warsaw carried rainbow flags to protest government authorities who have also targeted LGBT people with hostile rhetoric over the past two years.
Many carried signs with the movement’s logo, the silhouette of a suffragette with a red lightning bolt and the words “Strajk Kobiet” — or Women’s Strike.
Saturday's protest was devoted to calls to end police violence. Officers used tear gas and other types of force against protesters .
Police have recently also detained and charged many protesters, who have been defying bans on large gatherings imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.