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Poles protest against proposed abortion ban

Thousands of people in Poland have marched against proposals to tighten the country's already restrictive abortion laws. The debate around reproductive rights has been building over the past several months.

Pro-choice activists rallied outside Warsaw's parliament on Sunday to urge the new conservative government to drop plans for a total ban on pregnancy terminations.

Some protesters carried wire coat hangers, a symbol of primitive underground abortions, while others waved banners and chanted "keep your hands off the uterus" and "my body, my business."

Poland already has some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe.

Under current legislation, dating back to 1993, abortions are illegal, except when the pregnancy results from rape or incest, poses a health risk to the mother, or if the foetus is damaged.

Poland's ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), elected last October, is seeking to bring abortion regulations in line with the values of the influential Catholic Church. The new proposal would only allow abortion if the mother's life was in danger. It would also lift maximum jail terms for those carrying out illegal terminations from two to five years.

Beata Szydlo and Jaroslaw Kaczynski

Szydlo and Kaczynski both back the church's call for stricter abortion laws

Influential church

Also on Sunday, Polish bishops distributed a newsletter to churchgoers across the country, calling on politicians to tighten the 1993 law.

"Catholics' position on this is clear, and unchangeable: one needs to protect every person's life from conception to natural death," they said. "We ask the lawmakers and the government to initiate the legislation."

PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Prime Minister Beata Szydlo both say they back the idea. Kaczynski told reporters earlier this week he was "convinced that a vast majority of the caucus, or perhaps all of it, will back the proposal."

PiS, which has a majority in parliament, also plans to end state funding for in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and reinstate a prescription requirement for the "morning after" pill.

Around 90 percent of Poland's 38 million people are Catholics. Official statistics show only several hundred legal abortions are performed per year. Pro-choice campaigners say underground abortions are common, with some 150,000 Poles arranging terminations abroad each year.

nm/ng (AFP, Reuters)

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