Polish opponents of abortion march against recent steps to liberalise strict law

14 April 2024, 15:54

Poland Abortion
Poland Abortion. Picture: PA

A nation of some 38 million, Poland is seeking ways to boost the birth rate, which is currently at some 1.2 per woman – among the lowest in the EU.

Thousands of Polish opponents of abortion have marched in Warsaw to protest against recent steps by the new government to liberalise the predominantly Catholic nation’s strict laws and allow termination of pregnancy until the 12th week.

Many participants in the city centre march were pushing prams with children, while others were carrying white-and-red national flags or posters representing a foetus in the womb.

Poland’s Catholic Church has called for Sunday to be a day of prayer “in defence of conceived life” and has supported the march, organised by an anti-abortion movement.

“In the face of promotion of abortion in recent months, the march will be a rare occasion to show our support for the protection of human life from conception to natural death,” a federation of anti-abortion movements said in a statement.

Poland Abortion
Anti-abortion demonstrators march against proposed changes to the law (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)

They were referring to an ongoing public debate surrounding the steps that the four-month-old government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk is taking to relax the strict law brought in by its conservative predecessor.

Last week, Poland’s parliament, which is dominated by the liberal and pro-European Union ruling coalition, voted to approve further detailed work on four proposals to lift the near-ban on abortions.

The procedure, which could take weeks or even months, is expected to be eventually rejected by conservative President Andrzej Duda, whose term runs for another year.

Last month Mr Duda vetoed a draft law that would have made the morning-after pill available over the counter from the age of 15.

A nation of some 38 million, Poland is seeking ways to boost the birth rate, which is currently at some 1.2 per woman – among the lowest in the European Union.

Poland’s society is ageing and shrinking, facts that the previous right-wing government used among its arguments for toughening the abortion law.

Currently, abortions are only allowed in cases of rape or incest or if the woman’s life or health is at risk.

Poland Abortion
Poland’s parliament, which is dominated by the liberal and pro-European Union ruling coalition, voted to approve further detailed work on four proposals to lift the near-ban on abortions (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)

According to the Health Ministry, 161 abortions were performed in Polish hospitals in 2022.

However, abortion advocates estimate that some 120,000 women in Poland have abortions each year, mostly by secretly obtaining pills from abroad.

Women attempting to abort themselves are not penalised, but anyone assisting them can face up to three years in prison.

Reproductive rights advocates say the result is that doctors turn women away even in permitted cases for fear of legal consequences for themselves.

One of the four proposals being processed in parliament would decriminalise assisting a woman to have an abortion.

Another one, put forward by a party whose leaders are openly Catholic, would keep a ban in most cases but would allow abortions in cases of foetal defects – a right that was eliminated by a 2020 court ruling.

The two others aim to permit abortion through the 12th week.

By Press Association

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