Poland Starts Work on Total Abortion Ban Amid Culture Clash

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People attend an anti-abortion demonstration in front of the Polish Pariament in Warsaw on Sept. 22.

Photographer: Wojtek Radwanski/AFP via Getty Images
  • Catholic country already has one of EU’s most restrictive laws
  • Bill would put Poland in small global group with total ban

Polish lawmakers sent a bill banning all abortions and curbing sex education for further work in a parliamentary committee, opening a new front in the conservative government’s cultural “counter-revolution” that has already roiled the economy and justice system.

Religious groups loosely supported by the ruling Law & Justice party have proposed the bill to tighten what’s already one of the European Union’s most-restrictive regulations. While the current law limits abortions to pregnancies stemming from rape or incest, and cases where the mother or fetus faces serious health risk, they want a total ban that would put the Roman Catholic country of 38 million in a group of eight states that includes El Salvador, Guatemala and the Vatican.

Discussion of the draft law began Thursday in parliament, controlled by the party of Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, who’s advocated the return of Poland to its traditional Catholic roots. With a pledge to pull the nation out of what her administration derides as the liberal European “mainstream,” her 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 democracy. 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.

‘Nazi’ Practices

While Law & Justice hasn’t demanded its lawmakers support the bill, Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak defended the draft legislation, saying it would end practices that he compared to those pursued by Nazi Germany.

“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.

Full Protection

After the debate in the first of three readings on Thursday, lawmakers sent the draft to a committee in vote a Friday that saw 267 in favor in the lower house of 460 seats. There is no specific deadline for final approval. The second draft, crafted by the liberal opposition and supported by pro-choice groups that sought to widen access to abortion, was rejected.

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 who supports leaving the existing rules. “We can’t force women to be heroic,” said said Thursday in parliament.

Tomasz Latos, from Law & Justice, said he’s sure people will “judge it in their consciences.”

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 & 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.

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