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Polish left submits bills to liberalise abortion law

Polish parliament rejects proposed right-wing government
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A member of the majority alliance in Poland’s new parliament has submitted two bills aiming to liberalise one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws, it said on Tuesday.

The bills face an uphill battle — it is unclear if they will garner enough support to pass in parliament and even if they do, it is not clear if President Andrzej Duda, a conservative who opposes abortion, would sign them into law.

Abortion in the majority-Catholic country is currently legal only if the pregnancy results from sexual assault or incest, or threatens the life or health of the mother.

One of the bills “provides for full legalisation of the right to terminate a pregnancy until the 12th week,” said Anna Maria Zukowska, a lawmaker from The Left alliance that submitted the bill.

“The other is a bill decriminalising abortion assistance,” she told AFP.

The bills were submitted on Monday, when Poland’s new parliament met for the first time after an October general election, she said.

The Left is part of a pro-EU coalition led by former premier Donald Tusk that won enough votes to form a majority. It is bidding to form a government and oust the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, in power since 2015.

Duda, however, has given his former party the PiS first shot at forming the government, as it came first in the election — though it fell short of a majority.

Most analysts expect that PiS will fail and that the Tusk-led alliance will take power around mid-December.

It is unclear if the bills will have enough support to pass, including from The Left’s own alliance.

Two of the three political groupings in the pro-EU coalition — the Left, and the Civic Coalition led by Tusk, a former European Council president — have abortion liberalisation in their programmes.

But the third coalition member, the centrist Third Way, has not officially expressed its views on the topic and its lawmakers are not certain to back the legislation.

“We will hold talks with MPs from other parties” to convince them, Zukowska told AFP. She added that the decriminalisation bill would be easier to pass.

Should the bills pass, Duda would have to sign them into law. If he vetoes the measures, parliament could override if three-fifths of deputies — 276 MPs in the 460-seat chamber — vote for it with at least half the lawmakers present. Tusk’s pro-EU coalition currently controls 248 seats.

Poland has long had a stringent abortion law which was further tightened in 2021 to ban terminations due to foetal defects.

Last year, only 161 legal abortions were carried out in the EU member of 38 million people.

However tens of thousands of women terminate pregnancies at home — using banned abortion pills — or by going abroad, according to women’s groups.

Natalia Broniarczyk, from the Abortion Without Borders NGO, said that this year they have helped 46,000 women seeking terminations, mostly via pills.

“People support the liberalisation of the law,” Broniarczyk told AFP.

The Left “showed that it hasn’t forgotten its promises and understands why Polish women went to vote,” she added, referring to unprecedented election turnout among women.

With abortion assistance outlawed in Poland, activists and doctors who help with the procedure risk jail.

In March, activist Justyna Wydrzynska was found guilty of supplying a pregnant woman with abortion pills in the first such case. She was sentenced to community service.

According to an opinion poll conducted at the time, 84 percent of Poles were in favour of easing the abortion restrictions.

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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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