Polish MPs Take First Step Toward Easing Strict Abortion Laws

Polish MPs Take First Step Toward Easing Strict Abortion Laws

In a significant move, Polish lawmakers have taken a crucial first step toward loosening the country's stringent abortion laws. Following a lengthy debate, members of Poland's lower house of parliament voted to advance draft legislation aimed at amending the near-total ban on abortion. This development marks a historic moment for campaigners who have long sought to reform some of Europe's most restrictive abortion laws.

The debate on Thursday laid bare the deep divisions within Donald Tusk's ruling coalition over abortion access. However, despite differing opinions, MPs voted to send four bills on abortion for further study by a parliamentary committee. Among these bills are proposals to legalize abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy, a significant departure from the current legislation.

Kamila Ferenc of the Federation for Women and Family Planning hailed the vote as a historic moment. She emphasized the importance of this step, noting that it's the first time since 1996 that projects aimed at liberalizing and decriminalizing abortion have advanced to a second reading in parliamentary committee. However, Ferenc also acknowledged that there is still much work to be done in the legislative process.

Marta Lempart, the founder of the All-Poland Women's Strike, echoed Ferenc's sentiments, stating that while it will take time, the progress made is significant. Lempart emphasized the need for substantive work on the legalization bills, taking into account the realities faced by abortion activists in Poland.

Amnesty International described the vote as a significant step toward ending Poland's strict restrictions on abortion. Miko Czerwiński of the organization stressed the importance of listening to the voices of civil society and those directly affected by the near-total ban on abortion to bring the country's laws in line with international human rights standards.

The youth-led WSCHÓD Initiative welcomed the inclusion of a bill aimed at decriminalizing abortion assistance among those that made it through the vote. Wiktoria Jędroszkowiak of the organization highlighted the importance of ending the prosecution of individuals who provide assistance to those in need of abortion.

Several lawmakers celebrated the outcome of the vote, with Małgorzata Tracz of the Greens expressing joy for Polish women and Krystyna Szumilas of Tusk's Civic Coalition calling it a step toward ensuring women's safety.

Poland has long been known for having some of the European Union's strictest abortion laws. The situation worsened under the previous right-wing populist government and a 2020 constitutional ruling that barred abortion in cases of fetal abnormalities. The crackdown led to the deaths of at least six women as some doctors prioritized saving fetuses for ideological reasons or to avoid legal consequences.

Leading up to the vote, the coalition government, which includes Tusk's centrist Civic Coalition, the Left, and the conservative Third Way, agreed on the necessity of reversing the 2020 ruling. However, there was little consensus on how to proceed, with differing opinions within the coalition.

While some members supported the legalization of abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy, others advocated for a return to the strict 1993 laws negotiated between political leaders and the Catholic Church. The issue of a referendum was also raised, with some expressing support for allowing the public to decide on the matter.

Despite these differences, Szymon Hołownia, speaker of the Polish parliament and a member of the Third Way, stated that his party supported all four of the bills out of respect for democracy and the sustainability of the coalition. However, the fate of the bills ultimately rests in the hands of committee members.

Even if the legislation to liberalize abortion is approved by parliament, uncertainty remains regarding President Andrzej Duda's stance. Duda, aligned with the right-wing former government, has hinted at his opposition to progressive measures in the past.

The vote in Poland coincided with a resolution by the European Parliament urging member states to fully decriminalize and ensure access to safe and legal abortion. The resolution singled out Poland and Malta, calling on them to lift bans and restrictions on abortions.

In conclusion, while the vote represents a significant step toward reforming Poland's strict abortion laws, there are still hurdles to overcome in the legislative process. However, the progress made signals a potential shift in the country's approach to reproductive rights, with implications for women's health and autonomy.

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