Catholic Poland's constitutional court ruled on Thursday that existing legislation which allows for the abortion of malformed foetuses was "incompatible" with the protection of life.
PiS has spent much of its time in office tightening its grip on the courts, removing judges it finds to be politically objectionable, replacing them with what critics claim are political appointments, and creating disciplinary measures for justices who make rulings ministers don't agree with.
Police in Poland have used pepper spray against hundreds of people protesting in Warsaw against a court ruling that nearly completely bans abortions.
Hundreds marched toward the house of governing party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski on Thursday night after the ruling, some carrying candles and signs that read "torture". Police cordoned the house off from the noisy protesters who were calling for the government to step down.
Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd.
The court agreed with the lawmakers that an abortion predicated on the health of a fetus constituted illegal discrimination.
After the ruling by Poland's top court goes into effect, terminations will be allowed only in cases of rape, incest, or if the mothers health is at risk. Only the last provision was challenged.
The court ruling fulfilled a wish that Kaczynski had expressed in 2016 by saying, "We will strive to ensure that even cases of very hard pregnancies, when the child is certain to die, very deformed, still end up in a birth, so that the child can be baptized, buried, have a name".
Health Ministry figures for 2019 show that most of the 1,110 legal abortions performed previous year were due to foetal genetic defects like Down's syndrome, or to physical defects. Some say they are pressured into doing so by their superiors.
A group of right-wing lawmakers asked the tribunal in December 2019 to rule on the legality of abortion when there is serious, irreversible damage to the fetus.
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović deplored the decision.
"Removing the basis for nearly all legal abortions in Poland amounts to a ban and violates human rights", Dunja Mijatovic wrote on Twitter. "Today's ruling of the Constitutional Court means underground/abroad abortions for those who can afford and even greater ordeal for all others". "A sad day for #WomensRights".
"Throwing the topic of abortion and a ruling by a pseudo-court into the middle of a raging pandemic is more than cynical", he tweeted.
"With nearly all pregnancy terminations lawfully carried out in Poland today falling under this category (congenital defects), the bill -- if adopted -- would result in virtually outlawing abortion and seriously affecting rights and safety of women", she said. With the public attention occupied by the health crisis and public gatherings of over ten people banned, demonstrations in favour of legal abortion have been limited - nothing compared to the scale of the well-known Black Protest in 2016, which made headlines around the world.
While protestors oppose the ruling, the court argued that aborting a pregnancy due to foetal defects amounts to eugenics.