A coalition of 14 rights groups on Tuesday denounced "extreme barriers" to legal abortions in Poland a year after a ruling for a near-total ban, and said that women's rights activists faced growing dangers.

Abortion has become a political battleground in Poland where in October 2020 its highest court sided with the Catholic country's right-wing government to rule that terminations due to foetal defects were unconstitutional, tightening already heavy restrictions.

The group of NGOs, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, said that as a result "women, girls, and all pregnant people have faced extreme barriers to accessing legal abortions".

The rights groups also warned that "since the ruling, women human rights defenders have also faced an increasingly hostile and dangerous environment" in Poland.

They cited the case of a leading activist, Marta Lampert, who faced "escalating death threats" after leading demonstrations calling for legal abortions and women's rights.

Demonstrators carrying signs with a red lightning bolt, the symbol of the Polish women's strike movement, take part in a protest against Poland's near-total ban on abortion in Warsaw, on March 8, 2021 Demonstrators carrying signs with a red lightning bolt, the symbol of the Polish women's strike movement, take part in a protest against Poland's near-total ban on abortion in Warsaw, on March 8, 2021 Photo: AFP / Wojtek Radwanski

"The Constitutional Tribunal ruling is causing incalculable harm to women and girls -- especially those who are poor, live in rural areas, or are marginalised," Urszula Grycuk, international advocacy coordinator at the Federation for Women and Family Planning in Poland, said in a joint statement.

"The dignity, freedom and health of pregnant people are compromised because their own government is denying them access to essential reproductive health care."

Poland's Constitutional Tribunal, which the EU says has been had its independence stripped away, is currently at the centre of a separate row with Brussels after a controversial ruling against the supremacy of the bloc's laws.

The rights groups said that Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has "targeted women's rights organisations" in the wake of the abortion ruling.

"Activists said that government rhetoric and media campaigns smearing them and their work foster misinformation and hate that can put their safety at risk," the joint statement said.

The NGOs called on the European Commission to immediately implement a mechanism that could see Poland denied funds from Brussels for not respecting "EU values".