By Alan Charlish and Anna Koper
WARSAW (Reuters) - Poles staged further protests in cities across the country on Monday ahead of the expected entry into force of a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal that bans most abortions and that has prompted nearly two weeks of demonstrations and rallies.
The Oct. 22 ruling bans terminations due to foetal defects, ending one of the few legal grounds left for abortion in staunchly Catholic Poland and setting the country further apart from Europe's mainstream.
While centred on abortion, the protests have seen a broader outpouring of anger at Poland's nationalist rulers and their allies in the Catholic church, the latest manifestation of a battle between liberals and religious conservatives that this time touches on the government's response to COVID-19.
"Now it's not even only about abortion, it's about all of people's suffering and how the government has failed", said Magda, a 24-year old designer.
"It's most evident by how the pandemic was handled... they did absolutely nothing, they persecuted LGBT people and fought between each other and they didn't do anything about beds in hospitals, they didn't do anything to prepare schools."
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, from the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), urged the protesters on Monday to take part in talks and not try to settle differences on the street because of the risks of spreading COVID-19.
Protesters marched towards the Polish parliament, some chanting "Freedom, equality, abortion on demand". Other protesters carried placards with slogans such as "The choice belongs to women".
Protests took place in other cities too, with footage from private broadcaster TVN24 showing people marching and in some cases blocking traffic from Sopot in the north to Katowice and Krakow in the south.
The protests have seen a huge mobilisation of younger, more liberal, urban Poles.
"We are going to live in this country for the longest so it is most important for us," said Agnieszka, a 19-year-old student.
The government was expected to publish the constitutional court ruling on Monday in its official gazette, meaning it would enter into legal force. However, as of 1945 GMT it had yet to appear.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Anna Koper; Editing by Gareth Jones and Alex Richardson)