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Conservative Polish activists call for near-total ban on abortions

Polish anti-abortion groups have marched in support of severe restrictions on pregnancy terminations. Supported by government and church, already deeply conservative abortion laws could become even more so.

A protester holds a banner during a protest against plans of introduction of new abortion ban law in front of the Sejm (lower house of Parliament), in Warsaw, Poland, 03 April 2016. © picture alliance/dpa/J. Kmaniski

Pro-choice protests in April drew thousands into the streets in Warsaw and other cities

Anti-abortion activists plan to table a citizen's bill in parliament that would make abortions legal only when necessary to save a woman's life.

A petition to oblige parliament to go ahead with such legislation requires 100,000 signatures to be examined by parliament.

The organizers of Sunday's marches said they will continue their signature-gathering drive up to the end of June.

Going even further

Along with Ireland and Northern Ireland, Poland already has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. The present law - adopted in 1993 - stipulates a ban on abortion except in cases of pregnancies that result from rape or incest, pose a health risk to the mother or where the fetus is severely deformed.

The new law would also increase the maximum jail term from two years to five for people who perform unauthorized abortions. Anyone who provides information about or makes arrangements for a legal abortion abroad would also be liable to being charged as an accessory.

"Today we are calling on our state authorities to guarantee full legal protection of unborn children," Pawel Kwasniak, head of a Warsaw-based anti-abortion NGO, said at the rally in Warsaw. He added that similar rallies were held in 140 cities and towns across the country on Sunday.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, and Prime Minister Beata Szydlo have both said they back the idea.

In June 2011, Polish anti-abortion NGOs collected over 500,000 signatures for the proposed bill, but it was rejected by a majority of MPs.

The deeply socially conservative PiS government - in power since last October and closely affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church - has been vocal in its opposition to same-sex marriage and IVF and supports banning abortion in most cases.

A program funding in vitro fertilization, which has led to some 3,600 births in the country, will be closed in July and government subsidies are to be scrapped for the costly "morning-after" emergency contraception pill.

Opinion split

In a recent poll by the CBOS Public Opinion Research Center, 69 percent of Poles said they viewed abortion as "immoral and unacceptable," 14 percent were ambivalent towards it and 14 percent viewed it as acceptable.

Only one in seven (14 percent) supported the complete ban of all abortions, while more than one-third (36 percent) believe there should be exceptions.

The Federation for Women and Family Planning estimates that about 150,000 illegal abortions are performed each year. Legal abortions in Poland, which has a population of 38 million, are limited to around 700 to 1,800 per year. The National Health Fund says there were more than 1,800 abortions in 2014, compared to 1,350 in 2013.

Some women travel to Germany, where abortion is technically unlawful but tolerated until the 12th week of pregnancy, or to other nearby countries where restrictions are laxer.

Opposition

A pro-choice rally on April 3 in Warsaw drew about 3,000 people, with protesters waving wire coat hangers, a tool sometimes used in the past for crude and dangerous self-terminations.

Opponents have also launched their own plan to get 100,000 signatures supporting a law liberalizing abortion.

Three former Polish first ladies recently denounced PiS's proposals to tighten the country's abortion law.

"It is with great concern that we view the idea of abandoning compromise regarding the anti-abortion law of 1993," Danuta Walesa, Jolanta Kwasniewska and Anna Komorowska said in an open letter.

A woman holds a coat hanger, a symbol of underground abortions during a demonstration against a potential ban on abortion in Warsaw, Poland. copyright: picture-alliance/Pacific Press/A.Ferensowicz

A woman holds a coat hanger, a symbol of underground abortions, during a demonstration against a potential abortion ban

Some Catholic women say the bishops' support for a complete ban has driven a wedge between them and their faith.

"The recent idea of our new government, the issue of changing the law on abortion, made me, a person who believes in God, slightly disgusted," said Mariola Kuskowska, a Warsaw mother.

"I feel that the decision to change the abortion law is dictated by the church, rather than the independent initiative of the government," she told DW. "If it comes into force, it will apply to all, whether believers or not, as well as those who believe in a different faith. In the end, everyone has their own conscience."

"I would have expected that on the issues of abortion and human rights - which this law would roll back - the world had made a step forward and that this would never be abandoned," said Magda Wawrzyniak, a Gdynia-based editor of Miastodzieci.pl, a social media organization for parents with small children.

"However, the reversion to such proposals not only shows that such a way of thinking was a bit naive, but also how strong the medieval church-imposed mentality is close to certain groups of Polish citizens," she added.

"It proves something that has already been proven a thousand times, namely that the church is not a religious but a political institution," Wawrzyniak said. "Discussion about such changes in itself encourages sexual criminals as it victimizes those they've already attacked and deprives them of the last resort of protection."

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Poland Proposes Tightening Abortion Laws (21.09.2016)

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