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Polish parliament overwhelmingly rejects total abortion ban

Poland's parliament has roundly rejected a controversial proposal for a near-total abortion ban. The right-wing government was forced to back down after massive protests by women against the proposed measure.

Poland's conservative-majority parliament on Thursday overwhelmingly squashed a proposed near-total abortion ban that had triggered massive protests.

The unpopular proposal would have banned abortion even in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is at risk.

The governing Law and Justice (PiS) party and liberal parliamentarians joined forces to reject the bill by a vote of 352-58, with 18 abstentions.

In 2011, an NGO led a drive to collect more than 500,000 signatures to totally ban abortion.

The bill, rejected then by a majority of MPs, got enough support with the PiS this year to be sent to a committee in the lower house of parliament, the Sejm, in order to be subject to further amendments.

While most conservative PiS lawmakers supported the abortion ban, they were forced to backpedal after facing stiff resistance from a population that generally opposed the measure.

"PiS continues to back the protection of life," party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski told parliament. "And it will continue to take action in this respect, but it will be considered action."

The PiS, which swept to power last year, abruptly withdrew support for the measure on Wednesday at a parliamentary committee meeting.

Tens of thousands of women have taken part in protests against the bill, not least this Monday when women dressed in black and many boycotted work or classes. 

Polen | Proteste gegen neues Abtreibungsgesetz (Getty Images/AFP/J. Skarzynski)

Thousands of women dressed in black protested the abortion ban on Monday.

Poland already has restrictive rules on abortion, which allow it only in cases of rape, incest or if the mother or baby had serious health problems.

The rejected proposal would have limited abortion to cases where the mother's life was deemed to be in direct danger. Women and doctors would have faced prison if convicted of causing what the proposed rules called "death of a conceived child."

The Federation for Women and Family Planning estimates that each year about 150,000 abortions are performed either illegally or abroad. Legal abortions in Poland, which has a population of 38 million, are limited to around 700 to 1,800 per year.

cw/kl (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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