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Women begin national strike in Poland after near-total abortion ban

Protests in Poland over abortion ban
Protests continue in Poland over near-total abortion ban 03:34

Berlin — Women began striking across Poland on Wednesday in response to a court ruling that imposed a near-total ban on abortions in the country. The ruling made it illegal to terminate a pregnancy in the case of severe fetal health defects.

"We take unpaid leave. We are closing the shops. Or quite simply — we won't go to work," a group of women's rights activists said.

Abortion is only legal in Poland if the pregnancy endangers the life or health of the mother or is the result of rape or incest. Prior to last week's change in the law, it had also been legal in the case of severe fetal health defects — the most common reason for the procedure in the country.

Poland Abortion
A women's rights activist with a poster of the Women's Strike action protests in Warsaw, Poland, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020 against recent tightening of Poland's restrictive abortion law.  Czarek Sokolowski / AP

According to statistics from Poland's Ministry of Health, of the 1,110 abortions performed in Polish clinics in 2019, 1,074 were because of malformations of the unborn child.

Four years ago, women's rights activists succeeded in stopping a draft law that would have totally banned abortions in Poland and resulted in prison sentences for women who got them and doctors who performed them. In 2016, around 200,000 women refused to work during a general strike.

This time, however, conditions are different because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"I wish I could go out and protest. I am so angry, and people in my town are angry," one Polish woman, Aleksandra Musil, told CBS News. She is currently isolating at home in the town of Bytom after testing positive for COVID-19.

Musil said people who had never participated in protests were marching in the streets because they were furious with the court's decision, and that her 14-year-old daughter was participating in the strike.

The government is reportedly surprised by the scale of the backlash to the restrictions.

Meanwhile, Warsaw's mayor Rafal Trzaskowski said he supported Wednesday's women's strike, and that the city administration would allow its employees to participate. He said buses and streetcars would be flagged as a sign of solidarity with the protesters.

Poland Abortion
Women's rights activists with posters of the Women's Strike action protest in Warsaw, Poland, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020 against recent tightening of Poland's restrictive abortion law.  Czarek Sokolowski / AP
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