A van bearing anti-abortion slogans parked outside a hospital in Warsaw was set on fire last night. It is at least the fourth such incident to take place in Poland since a court ruling last year introduced a near-total ban on abortion, sparking a wave of mass protests.
Firefighters were notified at 3 a.m. this morning that a vehicle was on fire outside Bielański Hospital in Warsaw’s north-western Bielany district. The fire was extinguished and no one was harmed. Police are now investigating the incident.
Policja bada sprawę pożaru, w którym spłonęła furgonetka antyaborcyjna zaparkowana przed Szpitalem Bielańskim w Warszawie.https://t.co/Vb8wxaSsjI
— PolskieRadio24.pl (@PR24_pl) April 24, 2021
The rear section of the vehicle features slogans saying “in Bielański Hospital abortionists killed 131 children in 2017” alongside images of an aborted foetus. In October last year, a different van bearing the same words was also set alight in exactly the same location. The perpetrators were never identified.
The previous incident took place the day after Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal issued its ruling introducing a near-total abortion ban. The van was also graffitied with symbols of the protests against that ruling, including a lightning flash and the words “F**k PiS” – referring to the ruling party, which is seen as being behind the ban.
Last weekend in Kraków, a van featuring similar anti-abortion slogans as well as images of aborted foetuses was also set on fire in the city’s Nowa Huta district. Police are investigating that incident.
— Gazeta Wyborcza.pl (@gazeta_wyborcza) April 18, 2021
Fundacja Pro, the Catholic NGO to which the van in Kraków (as well as ten or so others elsewhere in Poland) belongs, said that this was not the first case of apparent arson against their vehicles. In January, one of its vans in the city of Gorzów Wielkopolski was set on fire.
The same NGO has also faced a series of legal cases over the graphic nature of its anti-abortion billboards, some of which courts have found to violate the law. Kraków city council last November passed a resolution banning the public display of images of aborted foetuses.
Councillors in Warsaw have drafted a resolution to introduce a similar ban in the capital, reports TVN24. Doctors, patients and visitors to Bielański Hospital have repeatedly complained about the anti-abortion vans parked outside, which have in some cases been towed away by police.
Last year, the hospital won a court case relating to one of the vans, resulting in the head of Fundacja Pro having to pay a 5,000 zloty (€1,100) fine, reports Gazeta.pl. However, since then different vans have continued to appear at the same location.
Fundacja Pro is also known for driving vehicles featuring anti-LGBT slogans around Polish cities. These have often faced spontaneous protests by members of the public, including drivers and pedestrians who have blocked them from moving.
In December, one of the NGO’s drivers was fined for noise violations. However, in a separate ruling, a court in Wrocław dismissed a complaint against Fundacja Pro for its slogans and images portraying homosexuals as paedophiles. The judge found its material to be “informative and educational”.
In response to such rulings, which reflect the fact that Poland’s hate crime laws do not cover sexual orientation or gender identity, some LGBT activists have turned to more radical forms of action. This has included vandalising the anti-LGBT vans and, in one case, engaging in a physical confrontation with a driver.
Last October’s ruling found abortions in cases where the foetus is diagnosed with a birth defect to be unconstitutional. Such terminations previously made up almost all legal abortions in Poland, but are now banned as a result of the ruling.
The ruling sparked the biggest protests in Poland’s post-communist history, with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets. Opinion polls have shown that a large majority of the public are opposed to the ruling.
While the demonstrations have been largely peaceful, some early protests saw cases of vandalism against churches as well as clashes with far-right groups that had gathered to protect them.
Main image credit: Slawomir Kaminski / Agencja Gazeta
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.