Poland’s parliament votes to progress toward easing abortion restrictions

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Polish legislators voted on four separate bills on Friday to consider changes to the country’s near-total ban on abortion, a highly controversial issue in the mainly Roman Catholic nation.

Poland has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.

Two of the proposals, including one from Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform party, aim to legalise abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy.

”Today is truly a symbolic day, a breakthrough day, and a day that our daughters and granddaughters will probably remember,” Third Way party member Ewa Schaedler said. ”Something has happened that has been almost impossible to overcome for 30 years. After 23 different attempts to change our laws on abortion, all of which were thrown in the bin on first reading, we have succeeded today.

A fourth bill from a conservative political party would return the country to the restrictive 1993 abortion law.

A 2020 court ruling further reduced abortion access, determining that women could no longer terminate pregnancies due to foetal defects. Abortion has been allowed in cases of rape or incest, or if the mother’s life is at risk.

Kinga Jelinska from the Polish Abortion Dream Team which aims to normalise pregnancy termination, said there is a strong demand for services.

”We support 130 women to have an abortion every day, more than 100 take abortion pills at their own home, usually sourced from the internet, from Women Help Women, and from other reliable providers,” she said.

”Some of them travel abroad because they are more than 12 weeks pregnant and need to go to the clinic abroad. We support them also financially and as a network of Abortion Without Borders we counted that we spent more than 11 million euro in the last years.”

There have been cases, however, of women dying as doctors waited to perform a termination.

Recent polls show more Poles are in favour of changing the rules. Any changes however must be signed into law by President Andrzej Duda who is aligned with the former populist government.

Law and Justice (PiS) party member, Krzysztof Szczucki said he voted against the four drafts.

”I believe that each of them is incompatible with the Polish Constitution and should therefore be rejected,” he said.

Abortion rights activists like Antonina Lewandowska from the Foundation for Women and Family Planning (FEDERA) who have fought for liberalisation of the law for years are cautious about claiming victory too soon.

”I think that’s the first battle that was won but there are a lot many more ahead of us,” she said.

Poland’s vote to open a debate on liberalisation of abortion law coincides with the EU Parliament’s push to include abortion in the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

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