Poland’s lawmakers on Thursday opened a divisive debate on changing the restrictive anti-abortion law, among Europe’s toughest, in this predominantly Catholic nation.
The 10-month-old conservative government considers the current law to
be too liberal.
The policy of Prime Minister Beata Szydlo’s government
focuses on various forms of support for large families in order to boost
the country’s sagging birth rate.
The lower house discussed two opposing drafts proposed by civic
groups. One, from the Stop Abortion group and supported by the
government, calls for a total ban on abortions. The other one, backed by
the opposition, is seeking to allow abortions through the 12th week of
pregnancy, like in many European Union nations.
The lawmakers will decide later Thursday whether to send the drafts for fine-tuning in special commissions.
The house is dominated by the ruling Law and Justice party whose
members declare attachment to the Catholic Church and to its insistence
that human life has to be protected from conception until natural death.
Observers say the government is bowing to the expectations of many
Church leaders, whose support helped the party win elections last year.
Hundreds of activists from both sides of the abortion debate picketed
in front of parliament.
The anti-abortion group, some with small
children in pushchairs, prayed aloud, while pro-abortion rights
activists were clad in black to signify mourning over the restrictions
in the availability of abortion.
Under 1993 legislation, abortion is currently allowed in Poland if
the woman’s life or health is endangered, the pregnancy results from
rape or incest or the fetus is irreparably damaged.
The law was criticized by both sides. Opponents of abortion said the
law allows for termination of pregnancies when the fetus is diagnosed
with Down syndrome.
Those seeking liberalization said the law leads to
about 100,000 illegal abortions each year.
Poland began debating a draft law to ban all abortions and curb sex
education as the country’s conservative government opens a new front in a
cultural “counter-revolution” that has already roiled the country’s
economy and justice system.
A total ban on abortion would put Poland, a country of 38 million, in
a group of eight states that includes El Salvador, Guatemala and the
With a pledge to pull the nation out of what her administration
derides as the liberal European “mainstream,” Szydlo’s party has
overhauled the Constitutional Court and public media and triggered the
EU’s first-ever probe into the functioning of a member state’s
It has also launched a social-subsidy program aimed at families that
helped prompt the nation’s first sovereign credit rating downgrade by
Standard & Poor’s.
Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak defended the draft legislation,
saying it would end practices that he compared to those pursued by Nazi
“I hope we’ll have a change that will mean we depart from eugenics,
or practices that are identical with those in Germany at times of
Hitler, where abortion was allowed due to illnesses,” Blaszczak told
public radio 3 on Thursday.
He said that because the current law allows abortions in case of
pre-natal defects in the fetus, it meant that 4/5 of the procedures are
due to Down Syndrome.
The abortion ban would ask too much of some women, who’d be forced to
endure suffering and risks to their health, according to Joanna Mucha, a
lawmaker from opposition Civic Platform supports leaving the existing
“We can’t force women to be heroic,” she said Thursday in parliament.
The proposed ban follows a call from Poland’s Roman Catholic
leadership in March for the “full protection of the unborn,” which the
church said wasn’t possible under the current law drafted as part of a
political compromise in the 1990s.
Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a devout Catholic, vowed
this month together with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to stage a
cultural “counter revolution” within the EU.
According to National Health Fund data, there were 1,812 abortions in Poland in 2014, about 500 more than a year earlier.
The Federation for Women and Family Planning, however, estimates the
number of terminated pregnancies at around 80,000 per year, and perhaps
as many as 200,000, including illegal procedures and those undergone by
Poles who travel to other EU countries with more lenient laws, such as
the neighboring Czech Republic.