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Poland: Lawmakers send forward bill to ease abortion law

April 12, 2024

A long-awaited parliamentary discussion on Poland's restrictive abortion laws saw heated debate. Premier Donald Tusk has promised liberalization, but conservatives in his coalition had hoped to block progress.

People protesting against Poland's strict abortion law on June 14, 2023
Protesters demonstrating in 2023 after a pregnant woman died of sepsis after being refused an abortionImage: Czarek Sokolowski/AP Photo/picture alliance

A bill to liberalize Poland's abortion law, one of the strictest in the European Union, passed its first hurdle in parliament on Friday.

The three coalition partners that make up the government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk  had submitted four separate bills for discussion amid wide divisions on the issue. 

Lawmakers voted to send all four on to be analyzed by a special commission that will work on lifting a near-total abortion ban. 

Under a 2020 ruling by Poland's Constitutional Court, abortion is permissible after rape or incest or in cases when the pregnant woman's life is in danger. However, it remains illegal if a fetus is severely abnormal.

Tusk has promised to liberalize the law, which was established by the previous conservative nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party government. The anti-abortion law has strong support of the Catholic Church, which retains a powerful influence in the country.

Many had hoped that the debate would be held earlier, but conservatives in Tusk's three-party governing coalition wanted it delayed until last weekend's local elections were over.

What bills were discussed?

Tusk's center-right Civic Coalition party is promoting a draft bill providing for the legalization of abortions up to the 12th week of pregnancy.

The Left, a left-wing alliance is calling for the same in an amendment of its own while putting forward a further motion that would at least provide for exemptions from punishment if the change fails to be approved.

The Third Way, a Christian conservative party, is proposing that abortions should be legal only in the case of a crime or if the pregnant woman or fetus is in danger. This is the legal situation that was in place before the Constitutional Court's 2020 ruling. 

Abortion in Europe scorned, concealed, prohibited

Political hindrances

Surveys show considerable public support for a more liberal law.

However, the way to liberalization is likely to be hampered by the fact that certain conservative politicians hold positions in which they have the power to impede reform.

President Andrzej Duda is one such lawmaker. He holds the veto power over legislation, and last month blocked a law that would have allowed over-the-counter access to the morning-after pill for girls and women aged 15 and over.

The speaker of parliament, Szymon Holownia, is also opposed to any liberalization of abortion law and stands accused by critics of delaying any parliamentary debate on the issue. 

Polish women who currently wish to have an abortion frequently take recourse to abortion pills from abroad or go to other countries to have the procedure carried out.

 tj/wd (AP, AFP)