A rally called by the "Save Women" pro-choice coalition has drawn a large crowd of protesters before the Polish parliament. A proposal by the governing PiS party would allow abortion only if the mother's life is at risk.
Thousands of Poles, many dressed in black as a symbol of mourning for the possible loss of reproductive rights, on Saturday gathered in front of the parliament in Warsaw to protest a proposed bill that would impose a virtually complete ban on abortion in the majority Catholic country.
Speakers at the rally described the proposed ban as "barbaric," calling for better sex education in schools and easier access to birth control as better methods to cut the abortion rate.
Protesters chanted "Stop the fanatics!" and "We want doctors, not missionaries."
"We will not allow our hospitals to be turned into torture chambers and our doctors into prison guards," said Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bak, a member of the left-wing Together party, in a speech to the crowd.
Catholic Church approval
Poland already has one of Europe's most restrictive abortion laws, which ban ending a pregnancy unless the woman's life is at risk, the pregnancy results from rape or incest or the fetus is badly damaged.
The government Law and Justice (PiS) party, which controls parliament, has now proposed allowing terminations only in case of a health risk to the mother. In addition, the proposed bill envisages increasing the maximum jail term for those who carry out abortions from two to five years.
The Catholic Church, which wields considerable power in the country, has approved the initiative. It is currently being examined by a parliamentary commission, with a vote not expected for weeks.
Surveys have shown that most Poles support the existing legislation on abortion, passed in 1993, so adopting the bill could exacerbate already deepening social tensions within the country.
Another protest against the proposed abortion ban is planned for Monday.
tj/jlw (AP, AFP)