Poland’s powerful ruling party leader urged his supporters on Tuesday to defend the predominantly Catholic nation's churches, potentially setting the stage for clashes with demonstrators angry at a court ruling that severely restricts abortions.
The call by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a conservative, drew strong condemnation from the main opposition head who accused him of deepening the nation's divide, inciting hatred and civil war. Poland's archbishop appealed for calm and respect for churches.
The country’s top court on Thursday ruled that abortions due to fetal congenital defects are unconstitutional, further tightening one of Europe's most restrictive abortion laws and triggering protests.
When it takes effect, which is expected with its official publication in the coming days or weeks, abortion will be permitted only when a pregnancy threatens the woman’s health or is the result of crime like rape or incest.
The ensuing massive demonstrations — in violation of pandemic restrictions — entered their sixth day on Tuesday and have included angry gatherings and obscene chants before churches and even disruptions of Masses.
'Inciting civil war'
Kaczynski insisted in a Facebook video message that the top court's ruling was in line with the constitution and said the protests were marked by anti-church "nihilism."
"We must defend Polish churches, we must defend them at every price," Kaczynski said, in an appeal to members and supporters of his ruling Law and Justice party.
Opposition Civic Coalition leader Borys Budka reacted by saying that words calling for "hatred, inciting civil war and using party forces to attack citizens are a crime."
He warned that the opposition could seek to bring Kaczynski before a special court for politicians.
People across Poland have been taking strolls in a form of protest that blocked traffic. A general strike that would see all women stay off work is planned Wednesday and a major protest march will be held in the capital city of Warsaw on Friday.
The head of Poland's Catholic Church, Archbishop Wojciech Polak, has meanwhile called for calm and respect for churches.
"It is a moral obligation of every Christian to take steps to de-escalate a conflict, not to intensify it," Polak wrote in a letter to his diocese of Gniezno.
Tensions involving Kaczynski also erupted in parliament.
Parliament's speaker called guards to protect Kaczynski, a deputy prime minister, from angry opposition lawmakers. Speaker Ryszard Telecki, a close ally of Kaczynski, caused more anger by likening the red lightning symbol of the protests to the runes of Nazi Germany's SS forces.
On Monday, thousands of protesters led by women’s rights activists blocked traffic for hours in most cities and also gathered outside churches, chanting obscenities against Poland’s influential Catholic Church leaders, who condemn abortions. They called for the women to have the right of choice.
Early Tuesday, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, whose government backs the tight restrictions, defended the court verdict said that "In order to have the freedom of choice you first must be alive."
He urged everyone to observe restrictions in an effort to fight a sudden spike in coronavirus cases, which hit a new high of some 16,300 daily confirmed cases Tuesday.
US 'dark money'
Kaczynski's call came as an openDemocracy investigation claimed that US Christian groups linked to the Trump administration have poured in at least $88 million (€74.7 million) in "dark money" into Europe since 2007 to fund anti-rights agendas.
The 28 groups include organisations such as the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
The ACLJ's European branch, the ECLJ, filed court briefs backing the Polish government’s controversial abortion restriction and publicly supported the country against the European Commission in their ongoing dispute over so-called "LGBT ideology-free" zones.
American Christian groups are also said to have backed restrictions on contraception, divorce, abortion, same-sex adoption and trans rights across Europe, from Italy to Austria, Norway and France. They have reportedly been involved in at least 50 legal cases including numerous cases challenging sexual and reproductive rights at the European Court of Human Rights.
ADF sought to intervene in a UK court case to defend a baker who refused to bake a cake with a marriage equality slogan on it, and says it supported allies assisting doctors in Norway who refused to provide women with contraceptive on religious grounds.
ACLJ is run by Jay Sekulow, the personal lawyer of US President Donald Trump, while the ADF counts several former Trump staffers among its ranks, according to openDemocracy.
The report flagged that as these conservative groups are registered as church organisations, they do not have to disclose any information relating to their funding or how they spend the money.
The head of the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights Neil Datta reacted to the report saying: "This is a form of interference in our political and judicial system which is as harmful to human rights as Russian meddling in democratic elections."