Poland implements its near-total abortion ban

Thousands protested on the streets of Poland late on Thursday as the government began enforcing a ruling that amounts to a near total abortion ban.

It was first announced last October, and bans almost all terminations of pregnancies, including those with fetal defects.

That triggered a wave of massive protests that pressured the government to delay its start date.

But on Thursday, as the government moved forward with the new rules, activists said they received calls from Polish women with scheduled abortions calling advice services in a panic.

Head of the Federation for Women and Family Planning, Krystyna Kacpura:

"I picked up about ten of these calls during the night, not all were from women, they were also from doctors and gynecologists asking if it (the ban) is in force, what should they do?"

She described it as a "black night for women".

Under the new rules, terminations will be permitted only in cases of rape and incest, and when the mother's life or health is endangered. Doctors performing illegal abortions in Poland face jail.

Abortions Without Borders, a support group helping women get abortions abroad, had their phone number sprayed on walls after the first protests.

They said they received at least 30 calls from women by noon on Thursday.

Their message to women seeking help was that they were not alone and they would try and help as many callers as possible.

Meanwhile, conservatives who supported the new limitations rejoiced, arguing that they had finally secured equal human rights for unborn children.

MP Maria Kurowska who supported the ban, said it was better to " have ten children on your arm than one on your conscience".