(CNN)Poland’s government put into effect Wednesday a ruling that outlaws the termination of pregnancies with fetal defects, resulting in a near-total ban on abortion in one of Europe’s most devout Catholic countries.
The October 22 ruling had led to weeks of protests, which were the largest the country had seen in decades, forcing the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government to delay its implementation. Under the new rules, abortion in Poland will only be legal in two scenarios — if the pregnancy threatened the mother’s life and health, or if a woman became pregnant following rape or incest.Small protests gathered late on Wednesday following an announcement PiS would take the official step to enforce the decision imminently, and abortion rights activists announced more would take place on Thursday.Abortion has emerged as one of the most divisive issues since PiS took power in 2015, promising poorer, older and less-educated Poles a return to a traditional society mixed with generous welfare policies.Read MoreThe court’s verdict was published in the official gazette late on Wednesday.”This idiotic ruling will not prevent abortions,” said Cezary Jasiński, a 23-year-old student, standing in front of the Constitutional Tribunal building in central Warsaw.”But for every woman who will experience pain because of this ruling, or will be forced to give birth to a child with Down’s Syndrome, they (court judges) will be to blame.”A demonstrator gestures as people take part in a pro-choice protest in the center of Warsaw, on January 27, as part of a nationwide wave of protests against Poland’s near-total ban on abortion.Last year’s protests quickly morphed into an eruption of anger against the government, particularly among young people, suggesting PiS may face a fresh challenge from new voters in coming years.On Wednesday, officials said the government would now focus on assisting parents of disabled children, although PiS as well as its centrist predecessors have been accused by critics of not doing enough in that regard.”The state can no longer take a life away only because someone is sick, disabled, in poor health,” PiS lawmaker Bartlomiej Wroblewski said.The party denies opposition criticism that it had influenced the court, called the Constitutional Tribunal. It is one of the judicial bodies PiS overhauled during reforms that the European Union said has politicized the courts.”No law-abiding government should respect this ruling,” Borys Budka, leader of Poland’s largest opposition party, the centrist Civic Platform, told reporters.Access to abortion has declined even without the legislative curbs as more doctors refuse to perform them on religious grounds and many women seek abortions abroad.Pro-choice protesters hold banners as they march towards the Law and Justice Party Headquarters on January 27, 2021 in Warsaw, Poland. In a justification published on Wednesday, the tribunal left open the possibility of the parliament regulating some circumstances covered by the law.Marek Suski, a PiS lawmaker, said the party would consider introducing new rules that could allow the most extreme fetal deformities to be excluded. But political commentators say consensus between PiS and its arch-conservative governing allies would be difficult to achieve.”In cases when the fetus doesn’t have a skull or has no chance to live outside the womb, there should be a choice. We will work on this,” Suski told public radio.Opinion surveys have shown some decline in PiS popularity in recent months, but an opinion poll by the government-affiliated CBOS pollster showed it edging back up to 35% this month, from 30% in October. PiS and its two small parliamentary allies won re-election in 2019 with a 44% share of the vote.