Poland look set to commit a near total ban on abortion to law, as parliament votes overwhelming in favour of tougher legislation.
On 23 September, a total of 267 members of the Polish Parliament's lower house voted in favour of a new bill that would allow terminations only if the mother’s life was at risk and increase the maximum jail term for practitioners from two years to five.
The anti-abortion bill, drawn up by pro-life citizen groups and brought before parliament by the governing Law and Justice party, would also make women who had an abortion liable to prison terms, though judges would have the discretion to waive individual sentences. Just 154 members of the Polish parliament opposed the bill.
The bill will now be sent to a committee phase for a further hearing.
At the same time, MPs voted against a counter-measure bill calling for freer access to abortion. Lawmakers also sent to committee a Law and Justice party-proposed bill limiting in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).
The measure would make it illegal to freeze embryos, which its proponents say are human beings from the moment of fertilisation. It would also only allow women to fertilise one egg at a time.
The proposed anti-abortion bill has received the backing of the Catholic Church. In a statement read in churches on 3 April, they urged politicians to support the proposed ban and said Poland’s 1993 law, which restricts abortions to cases of rape, incest, severe foetal damage or threats to a woman’s life, could not be sustained and should be replaced by a total ban.
“Each person’s life is protected by the Fifth Commandment, do not kill. So the attitude of Catholics is clear and unchanging,” read the statement. “In this jubilee year of Poland’s baptism, we urge all people of goodwill, believers and nonbelievers, to take action to ensure full legal protection of unborn lives.”
The bishops have since opposed the jailing of women.
Pro-choice MPs from a number of opposition parties claimed the bill was a set-back for women’s rights in Poland.
“No woman has an abortion because of a whim: she has one because of a crisis,” Joanna Scheuring-Wieglus, one parliamentary member is reported to have said in the Telegraph. “The world should not be made black and white. This bill fosters hypocrisy upon hypocrisy. Why do so many of you hate women?”
A poll published by the Newsweek Polska magazine this week, showed that 74 per cent of Poles want to keep the existing law. According to official statistics, there are less than 2,000 legal abortions a year in Poland, but women’s groups estimate that another 100,000-150,000 procedures are performed illegally or abroad.
The current law, passed in 1993, bans all terminations unless the pregnancy poses a health risk to the mother, the foetus is severely deformed or was a result of rape or incest.