If enacted, the ‘stop abortion’ bill would outlaw terminations carried out because of a congenital disorder of the foetus

Protesters spell out the phrase ‘women’s rights’ in Polish at a rally outside parliament in Warsaw
 Protesters spell out the phrase ‘women’s rights’ in Polish at a rally outside parliament in Warsaw on Wednesday. Photograph: Agencja Gazeta/Reuters

The Polish parliament has rejected proposed legislation to liberalise abortion laws, voting instead to pass proposals for tough new restrictions to a parliamentary committee for further scrutiny.

Poland already has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, with terminations permitted only when the life of the foetus is under threat, when there is a grave threat to the health of the mother, or if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

If enacted, the “stop abortion” bill – a so-called citizens’ initiative proposed by hardline conservative groups – would outlaw abortions carried out because of a congenital disorder of the foetus.

Such cases account for about 95% of legal abortions in Poland. It is estimated that tens of thousands of illegal terminations occur in Poland each year, and many Polish women seeking abortions also go abroad, or order abortion pills online.

“This is a black day for Polish women,” said Krystyna Kacpura, an executive director of the Federation for Women and Family Planning. “If the bill is passed, Polish women will die. We are treated as unneeded – we are just there to give birth, and if we give birth to a very sick child, we are left to bring the child up by ourselves without any help.”

In 2016, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) was forced to back away from a blanket ban on abortion when the proposal’s passage to the committee stage provoked mass street demonstrations that came to be known as the “black protests”.

But the rightwing party’s leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, indicated that the government would continue to seek to tighten the law. He said: “We will strive to ensure that even in pregnancies which are very difficult, when a child is sure to die, strongly deformed, women end up giving birth so that the child can be baptised, buried, and have a name.”

Introducing the proposed restrictions on Wednesday, Kaja Godek of the anti-abortion Life and Family Foundation told MPs that “we have come to parliament today because we don’t want hospitals turning into abattoirs”.

Since assuming office in 2015, PiS has ended state funding for IVF treatment and restricted access to emergency contraception, introducing a requirement for a prescription in order to obtain the morning-after pill.

Łukasz Szumowski, appointed health minister during a government reshuffle this week, is one of almost 4,000 Polish doctors to have signed a “declaration of faith” committing not to participate in “abortion, euthanasia, contraception, artificial insemination, and/or in vitro fertilisation” on the grounds that such acts “not only violate the basic commandments of the Decalogue, but reject the creator as well”.

MPs considered a proposal to liberalise abortion laws. The “save women” bill would allow abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy and provide for better access to emergency contraception, medical care and sex education.

But its progress to the committee stage was rejected by eight votes, prompting recriminations as pro-choice activists accused opposition MPs of betraying Polish women by failing to show up. Dozens of opposition MPs who were present abstained.

“Many politicians believe their careers depend on the Catholic church,” said Kacpura. “But we will continue to fight this, because we are fighting for our lives.”

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/11/polish-mps-reject-liberalised-abortion-laws-but-back-new-restrictions