Police in Poland used pepper spray against demonstrators after hundreds gathered in the capital of Warsaw to protest a near-total ban on abortions.
Poland’s highest court ruled Thursday that abortions due to fetal defects were unconstitutional. Around 98% of abortions in Poland had been conducted as a result of fetal defects, meaning the ruling bans virtually all terminations taking place in the country.
The country already has some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe and will now only allow a termination in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life in danger.
The ruling sparked furious protests in the country. On Friday riot police cracked down on crowds which gathered near the home of the ruling Law and Justice Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
Kaczynski is the country’s Deputy Prime Minister and widely seen as the de facto decision maker in Poland, despite not being the Prime Minister or President. The move to further restrict abortion had been pursued by Poland’s populist government for months.
In one video, shared on social media, officers can be seen surrounding a protester on the ground and hitting the person with a pepper spray can. One officer holds off incoming protesters trying to help the person, using more pepper spray.
In a second video a group of police officers are seen arresting a protester while another group of officers wrestles with a demonstrator as they try to take him away.
A Warsaw police spokesman said Friday that police arrested 15 people at the protests, 14 of whom have been now been released. Authorities issued 35 fine and filed 89 motions in court.
Rights groups have reacted with horror to the Polish court’s abortion ruling.
On Thursday, Amnesty International called the ruling a “cruel judgment,” saying it was the result of a “coordinated, systemic wave of attacks on women’s human rights.”
“Legal prohibitions on abortion do not prevent abortion or reduce the rates of abortion – they serve only to damage women’s health by pushing abortions underground or forcing women to travel to foreign countries to access abortion care they need and to which they have a right,” Amnesty said in a statement.