Warsaw, Mar 24 (AFP) Thousands of Poles took to the streets today to protest plans to tighten the abortion law, as the Council of Europe warned the new measure ran counter to Warsaw’s human rights commitments.

In Warsaw, men and women carried large red signs shaped like hands with the word “Stop”, as well as others with slogans such as “we want choice, not terrorising”.

Around 55,000 people protested in the capital, according to city hall spokesman Bartosz Milczarczyk, whose boss the mayor belongs to the liberal opposition party.

The pro-government state television TVP estimated the number at several thousand protesters.

The “Black Friday” rallies also took place in other cities across the country, including Gdansk, Krakow, Poznan, Szczecin and Wroclaw.

“I didn’t come here to talk politics but to defend our right to be able to choose what we want to do with our bodies,” said mother-of-two Agnieszka Siwek in Warsaw.

“Nor is this about religion. This is about a freedom that’s a fundamental right,” the 50-year-old protester told AFP.

Demonstrators had gathered outside parliament before marching through the city to the police-guarded headquarters of the ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, which backs the citizen’s bill with the support of the Catholic hierarchy.

Others marched from the seat of the Warsaw archdiocese to the PiS headquarters, making stops in front of churches along the way.

“I’m here because I’m angry…. Our politicians are meddling in things that don’t concern them,” writer Joanna Olech said.

“We make our decisions according to our own conscience and we don’t want bishops to make that decision for us,” she told AFP.

According to the bill, which could pass in parliament where conservatives have a majority, abortion would be outlawed except in cases where the mother has been raped or is a victim of incest.

Stop Abortion committee activist Kaja Godek said it would halt abortions for malformed foetuses, and “represent the lives of three human beings every day”.

She said malformation was behind 1,046 legal abortions carried out in Poland in 2017 or 96 per cent of the total.

Earlier in the day, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks published his warning to Warsaw.

“If adopted, the draft law would remove the possibility of terminating the pregnancy in case of severe foetal impairment, including in cases where such impairment is fatal,” Muiznieks wrote.

“This step would be at variance with Poland’s obligations under international human rights law.” He urged the Polish parliament to “reject this legislative proposal and any other legislative proposal that seeks to further limit women’s access to their sexual and reproductive rights in Poland”. (AFP) CK 03240206

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.