By Agnieszka Barteczko and Pawel Florkiewicz
WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland's ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski insisted on Tuesday that a court ruling further restricting abortion could not be reversed, threatening action against mass protests that have spread across Poland since the decision last Thursday.
Five days of nationwide protests have followed a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal last week that amounts to a near-total ban on abortion in the predominantly Catholic country.
Once the decision goes into effect, pregnancy termination will only be legal in the case of incest, rape or a threat to the mother's health. The court said abortion due to foetal abnormalities, the only other case for legal termination in Poland until now, was unconstitutional.
"There could not have been a different ruling given the constitution ... We have to remember that we are completely in the right when it comes to legal questions," Kaczynski said in a video broadcast on the Law and Justice (PiS) party's Facebook page. "We cannot change this decision under the current constitution."
He said the protests would cost the lives of many people and warned that those calling for or taking part in the protests were committing a crime, demanding Poles do more to "defend Poland and patriotism" as well as the church.
His message came after Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called for an end to mass protests over abortion rights, saying those attending were disregarding "massive risks" from the resurgent coronavirus pandemic.
He said his government would ensure mothers and their children born despite health problems would be taken care of.
Protests have focused in part on concerns women would be forced to carry to term pregnancies with severe genetic disorders likely to result in the baby's death during labour or shortly after.
They have taken place across the country in defiance of restrictions imposed to curb mounting COVID-19 cases. On Tuesday, Poland hit a record of 16,300 reported new infections.
Scuffles erupted in parliament earlier on Tuesday, with opposition lawmakers surrounding Kaczynski, carrying signs reading "This is war", "Shame" and "Legal abortion".
Protesters also gathered outside the parliament building, as well as in cities such as Krakow, Lodz, Bydgoszcz and Wroclaw, according to footage shown by state broadcaster TVP.
Kaczynski and PiS appear to have been taken by surprise by the intensity of the protests, which have also fuelled an unusually fierce backlash against the Roman Catholic Church. The clergy are seen as having close links with PiS and its ultra-conservative allies in parliament.
PiS came to power five years ago on a promise to instil more traditional values in public life, and has attracted criticism at home and abroad over a crackdown on LGBT rights and campaign rhetoric opponents say foments homophobia.
The European Commission has said a PiS overhaul of the judiciary, which the party says aims to make the system more effective and fair, amounts to a subversion of democratic norms because it has politicized courts.
The party has also been criticised for wielding control over state media, notably broadcaster TVP, which ran a news ticker on Tuesday saying "Left-wing fascism is destroying Poland" and "The opposition seeks anarchy because it lost elections".
(Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Additional reporting by Anna Koper; Writing by Justyna Pawlak and Joanna Plucinska Editing by Jon Boyle and David Holmes)