The anti-abortion horror show in Poland has been going on for two years. It must end

It’s been two years since hundreds of thousands people – mostly women – have joined protests in Poland against a almost total ban on legal abortion. The police used violence disperse rallies and arrest thousands of protesters.

On Monday, protesters in Warsaw, at the Constitutional Court, plan to mark the second anniversary of the court’s decision with another rally, outside the Constitutional Court, which approved the near-total ban. They say they will reiterate their demands for the government to decriminalize pregnancy terminations and ensure access to safe and legal abortion for all.

They also plan to commemorate several pregnant women known to have died in Poland since the court ruling, after doctors refuse to abort them. One death resulted criminal charges against doctors.

The Polish authorities must heed the protesters’ demands and stop suppressing the reproductive rights movement. They must ensure that the police respect the right to peaceful protest and do not use disproportionate force. They should drop vexatious charges against protesters and discipline or punish security guards who violate protesters’ rights.

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The European Union can also play a key role in pushing for such reforms.

Police violence against protesters

In intermittent rallies across the country, from the October 22, 2020 court ruling through 2021 when the ruling went into effect, police dispersed protesters with batons, pepper spray and tear gas.

Government authorities said protesters were defying a pandemic-related ban on gatherings – though police’kettle‘ in cordoned off areas for hours, which only increased the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Activists, protesters and lawyers have countered that authorities have been targeting critics of the government, which has been led by the Law and Justice party since 2015. Since coming to power, the government has also curbed sex educationdenounced LGBTQ+ rightsoffensive women’s rights activists and eroded the rule of law.

Protesters described being ‘punched in the face’, ‘beaten with a truncheon’ and ‘kicked in the groin’ by police, in some cases after being pinned to the ground, according to a 2021 damning report of the Polish independent body for the prevention of torture.

Police also transported handcuffed protesters from Warsaw to police stations up to 130 km on a “unprecedented scaleeven though at least five police stations in the capital had room for them, according to the anti-torture unit. In April 2021, Adam Bodnar, then Polish Commissioner for Human Rights, accused the authorities to transfer detainees “to prevent contact with lawyers”.

The independent report also said police mocked a detained protester with epilepsy who was having difficulty breathing. They strangled, punched and kicked another protester and used homophobic slurs and threats against him. In several cases, the police would have denied or delayed access to medical care or legal counsel for detained protesters and ordered apparently unnecessary strip searches.

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